As Goa celebrated its 60th Liberation Day on December 19, more than 30 youths, including minors, were detained in the state for participating in a peaceful protest and a celebration.
While President Ram Nath Kovind landed in Panjim and embarked on a two-day visit to the state for the Liberation Day celebration, the youths protesting against three infrastructure projects were detained from the Panjim Church. Citizens were also detained early afternoon, and driven around in police buses for several hours and were finally taken to the Ponda police station in North Goa. Many were not allowed to go home till 9 PM. The detention, especially that of minors, has angered many in the state.
The peaceful gathering of protesters started on the night of December 18. Several people assembled at Lawrence Chapel in Arossim to occupy the railway tracks yet again. The protestors were singing and dancing while pledging to save Goa from environmental destruction.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state has been witnessing a strong youth-led movement to stall three infrastructure projects—double-tracking of an existing railway line connecting the Mormugao Port in Goa with Hospet in Karnataka, widening of National Highway (NH) 4A connecting Panaji in Goa to Belagavi in Karnataka, and a 400-kilovolt (kV) power transmission corridor from Dharwad in Karnataka to Xeldem in Goa. The projects are being seen as means to transport coal while the government denies it. These are slated to pass through the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mollem National Park, considered bio-diversity hotspots, sparking concerns over its adverse impact on the environment and lives of locals.
Speaking to NewsClick, Sherry, a resident, explained what transpired over the weekend leading to the detentions. Sherry said, “It was our liberation day, for us it was a day of celebration, that there is still hope for the future. We were celebrating our freedom fighters. Lots of young people were proceeding towards the Panjim city. While some made it to the city since they were coming from the north side, the others, who were proceeding towards the city, were stopped from even entering. Their licences were taken and they were not allowed to enter.” She added, “They did not have anything with them which could create any problem. Children were carrying sanitisers and roses. How can children with roses be a threat to the president of our country? After being stopped, they were not told where they were being taken, or under what section they were being detained.”
Many stated that they were being picked up merely because they were wearing shirts with the slogan—"Save Mollem”. In a statement, My Mollem campaign’s lawyer Sreeja Chakarborty said, “The legal community is shocked at wrongful use of police power, especially towards minors. The Goa Police has forgotten its duty as protectors of the law, instead they have engaged in unlawful detention and without giving reason or producing orders to justify the detention.”
The detentions have triggered widespread outrage across the state as videos of minors being dragged away in buses surfaced on social media.
Civil Society groups and environmental activists in the state have said that the move to detain the youth is oriented towards creating a chilling effect on peaceful protests in the state.
Swasha, a resident of Mollem, said, “With electoral victories, the BJP feels completely unopposed—that they will not have any competition. There is an atmosphere of fear. With the presence of Ram Nath Kovind, the government wanted to ensure that the protests and the opposition does not come to the forefront.”
Previously, NewsClick reported that an FIR had been registered against the conveners of Goyant Kolso Naka and Goencho Ekvott, two organisations leading the movement to ‘Save Mollem’. The protesters have been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including unlawful assembly, restriction of movement and rioting.
Also read: Save Mollem Protests: FIRs Filed Against Activists, Charges Include Rioting