It was on December 19, 2020 when more than 30 youths including minors were detained from the steps of Panjim church. Reason for detention? The group was a part of Goa Mollem Protests against three infrastructure projects that will pass through Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mollem National Park that are considered as biodiversity hotspots.
“Goyant Kollso Naka” (We Don’t Want Coal in Goa) read the banners held many protesters as the proposed rail line and highway for coal movement can lead to habitat fragmentation. Probably the reason why the rail line was rejected in 2013 the then Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar.
Which Projects does Goa Mollem Protests stands against?
According to Claude Alvares, an environmentalist and director of the Goa Foundation, two of the three projects are related to transportation of coal and iron ore to Goa. The three projects, namely:
- 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,
- A 400-kilovolt (kV) power transmission corridor from Dharwad in Karnataka to Xeldem in Goa;
will pass through these biodiversity hotspots.
How do these projects hamper Goa Wildlife?
The two forest clearance will lead to the cutting down of 59,024 trees in the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park. Movement of coal will lead to spread of coal dust that can travel to distances of 5-15kms.
As per The Quint reporting, the sanctuary is the home to more than 70 mammal species, 235 bird species, 219 butterfly species, 44 fish species, 45 reptile species and 27 amphibian species at present.
Also the place is a major tourism spot along with places like Dudhsagar, one of the tallest waterfalls of the country that acts as an important revenue resource.
Why are these projects problematic?
There are three main problems associated with these projects:
- Clearance to these projects was given virtually without any proper scrutiny, assessment and deliberation. The projects were approved via video conferencing in a time span of 10 minutes. Two out of three projects were approved the National Board of Wildlife in the lockdown period.
- RTI activist Savio Correia claimed the projects to be a part of Sagarmala Programme for port-led development approved the Central Government in 2016, and aims to convert Goa into a coal transportation corridor.
- On questioning, central government laid responsibility with the state panel for approval of projects. However, members of state panel denied any involvement in the clearance process.
Fortunately, The Bombay High Court at Goa has rejected the approval of Tamnar Project for the construction of a substation in Sangod. However, the government is getting ready to work on other two projects.