New Delhi: On Sunday midnight, several citizens, activists and members of political parties sat in protest on railway lines of Chandor in Goa, against the doubling of tracks which, they alleged, was being done to favour coal companies and make Goa a coal transportation hub at the cost of its ecology.
Citizens are also raising bigger questions over the environment clearance processes in the state.
Activists on the ground also accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of trying to turn Goa into a coal transportation hub, thereby threatening the ecology, public health and heritage of the state.
Currently, the state serves as a crucial link of coal transportation to Karnataka. However, despite the existing infrastructure, the government is looking to fast-track the transportation process by introducing three major infrastructure projects, which is facing stiff opposition from local residents. The projects include double tracking of railway lines, dredging of river ways for faster coal transportation and a four-lane highway expansion.
Residents allege that the government has given a go-ahead for work to proceed on these projects despite the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) process being complete. The rail track doubling project is reportedly involves felling of trees in the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and a national park on the border of the state.
Clearances Still Due, Say Activists
Deepika D'Souza, from the Goyant Kolloso Nakka (Goa does not want coal) campaign told NewsClick that “people are objecting hugely to these projects. The government as it currently stands does not have clearances for these projects, the EIA process stands incomplete, therefore the government is giving a go ahead to this work illegally.”
She claimed thousands of people had taken part in the protest, adding that the wide participation reflected serious concern that people had to save the state’s ecosystem and heritage.
“We did have solidarity from political representatives however, this is a movement driven entirely by citizens,” she added.
D’Souza said the process to initiate a coal route had already begun during the pandemic-induced lockdown. “During the lockdown, so many people were not around, and it is during this time that the government started this expansion. Many residents are now finding out that rubble is being dumped in their backyards.”
The proposed expansion of tracks will also pass through one of Goa’s largest protected area-- The Mollem National Park -- and is likely to result in the felling of 37,000 trees by conservative estimates.
Mollem is Goa’s largest ‘protected area’ that falls in the Western Ghats. It is one of the 36 biodiversity hotspots, recently declared as a natural World Heritage Site.
Malaika, from the student-driven ‘Save Mollem’ campaign said: “We have been resisting these infrastructure projects since June. The three projects are oriented toward making Goa a coal hub for big coal companies. There are various loopholes in the EIA assessment process. For the transmission line project, the reports have not yet been made public. After reading through what has been made available to the public it becomes clear that the number of trees removed is grossly underestimated.”
Residents fear that the railway line expansion would also lead to the destruction of heritage homes and people’s traditional land holdings. “This is a targeted attack on our culture, our ecosystem and our heritage,” the activists said.
The protests by residents by occupying the railway lines was not a one-off event, as villagers have been protesting against the expansion every single day despite the ongoing pandemic.
The resistance movement in Goa is also getting solidarity from international solidarity groups, the activists said.
To garner wider support, students and activists are also creating artwork and have launched online petitions to raise public awareness about the adverse impact of these projects on animals and biodiversity in the region.