On February 19, hundreds of people, including farmers and residents of Varkhand-Nagzar, Tulaskarwadi, Dhargal and other parts of Pernem, were detained by Goa Police and then taken to different police stations as they were protesting and objecting to the demarcation of land for the proposed six-lane link highway from Dhargal to the under-construction Mopa airport site.
This is not a new contention. The portion of the highway has been under a question mark for long. The Dhargal and the Nagzar-Warkhand panchayats have passed gram sabha resolutions objecting to the proposed link road. The protest on Friday erupted when government officials arrived at the site to demarcate land for the proposed six-lane link highway. The main objection of the people in the area is the loss of their land. The farmers have been clear that land in excess of what is required for the airport will not be given to the government as the land and forests belong to the people. Their contention is that for the last three years the people have been unable to cultivate their forests, which is their source of livelihood and the government will have to compensate them for the same.
But it goes beyond that. Besides the link road that led to the protest which is currently a major district road (MDR) leading to the airport site that has been declared as a national highway (NH66), the area around the airport has been brought under the planning and development authority (PDA), and the villagers have only lately realised that this could change the dynamics of the area. The farmers are not wrong that there exists an attempt to commercialise the area around the airport site. An airport such as the one planned in Mopa cannot exist in isolation, it needs commercial activity in its surroundings and therefore Mopa has its own PDA which was proposed years earlier.
The expression of interest on the Mopa airport project had already envisioned a PDA for Mopa and had further giving the PDA the liberty to have a larger floor area ratio. It is only now, as construction on the airport goes on and the area around is set to be developed that the local residents have realised the changes that will be wrought about in the area. It is this realisation that has led to the demand that the government return the excess land acquired for the project. A delegation of farmers even met the Chief Minister where they were told that the decision is in the interest of the farmers and advised not to oppose the survey. However, the farmers are now not willing to give their agriculture land for the proposed road.
This is not a new protest by the farmers of Mopa and the surrounding areas. Their movement got a boost a couple of months ago when various groups, essentially farmers’ groups, came forward to support them, with the threat to agitate at the national level, if the government failed to fulfil the demands of the Mopa farmers. Detaining the protesting farmers could spur the protest further, especially after what occurred in Melauli last month following the police action on the protestors there. The solution is dialogue at an early date, where the people are told exactly what they can expect. The people believed they were getting an airport. Now there is a township linked to it, of which they were unaware.