Environmentalists and Goa-based activists are raising serious concerns over virtual clearances given to two projects passing through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park in Goa. Pointing out environmental concerns and seeking a rigorous cumulative impact assessment study, a letter has been sent to the Union Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) by a group of 149 scientists, conservationists and activists on June 4.
On April 7, the two projects -- a four-lane highway and laying a 400 kv transmission line pass the state’s forest got clearances by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) under MoEFCC along with nine other projects in various states.
In the letter to the union ministry, the signatories pointed out a third project related to the double tracking of the railway line passing through the sanctuary and national park which is being considered by the government. These three projects, the letter stated, will result in habitat fragmentation and will have direct impact on wildlife and tiger habitat in the region.
“It is disturbing how two projects can be cleared by the NBWL in tiger habitat, using poorly-done biodiversity assessment for the NH4A project or no environmental impact assessment (EIA) of power transmission line. No fact-checking has been done whether these EIAs were done properly, or if there is sensitive biodiversity in the region. What is the whole point of the EIA process when the NBWL or MoEFCC doesn’t even care to look at it and blindly trusts project proponents,” said Girish Punjabi, a wildlife biologist and signatory to the letter.
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Meanwhile, a group of young people in the state have started an online petition opposing the three projects to Indian Pollution Control Board on Change.org. At the time of writing, 12,747 people have signed in support of the petition. “If these projects are set up then along with the wildlife the name of 'Green Goa' will be completely lost. It will also affect the living of the locals staying there. So we need to protect our wildlife, get united, raisevoice in unity and save Green Goa,” reads the petition.
“The small villages situated on the banks of rivers and locals who earn their livelihood by ancestral farming method and who are dependent on those rivers will face problems if these projects begin,” said Akshay Shet, who is part of the online petition.
Reportedly, the three projects would require cutting down over 50,000 trees and diversion of 216 hectares of forest and private land.
The people of Goa people fear that these projects will lead to large scale destruction of forest and wildlife, said Christopher Fonseca, state general secretary of All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). “The fear is justified because of the suspicious manner in which the authorities have been taking forward these projects,” Fonseca told NewsClick.
The letter addressed to MoEFCC further stated that, “Direct loss of biodiversity and the far-reaching impacts of habitat fragmentation will reduce ecosystem stability and decrease forest resilience, that is also required to deal with the effects of climate change. These three projects can only be evaluated through a rigorous cumulative impact assessment study of all three linear projects within one protected area and cannot be looked at in isolation by the MoEFCC and NBWL.”