Goa, the land that only reminds of scenic beauty and relaxing vacation, turned into a protest hub since Sunday (1st November) night as the locals blocked railway lines in the village of Chandol (South Goa) chanting “Goyant Kollso Naka”(We don’t want coal in Goa). Thousands of Goans protesting unabated through the night, beating drums, singing, dancing and raising slogans demanded the government to hold the 3 mega infrastructure projects set to disturb the ecology of the land.
During the lockdown, a standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife headed by Union Minister, Prakash Javadekar discussed more than 30 forest clearance proposals. Out of these, the three main infrastructure projects that have been given a green signal are: doubling of the railway track connecting Mormugao port (Goa) to North Karnataka, expansion of National Highway 4-A and the construction of a new 400-kV power transmission line. These projects would slice right through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park causing a loss of 170 hectares of the land.
Almost one lakh trees would be cut down, out of which 59,000 would be of Goa. The locals claim that the project would not only commercially exploit the lands but also turn Goa into a coal hub, further destroying the pristine ecology and biodiversity. Apart from choking Goa on devil’s dust(minute particles of coal in the air) the wildlife would also suffer a great loss.
The protest has now managed to catch a little attention of the mainstream media after seeing a social media outrage including Bollywood celebrities like Randeep Hooda and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor raising their voices on Twitter.
Let’s stand with Goans protesting the proposed loss of 70k trees & destruction of biodiversity hub in #Mollem a #Tiger habitat for doubling the railway line to make Goa into a Coal transport hub instead.Why not go around the Eco sensitive zone? #SaveMollem https://t.co/9r1k82qH93 pic.twitter.com/c5mDfnjEEs
— Randeep Hooda (@RandeepHooda) November 7, 2020
Thousands of Goa residents protest at Govt plans to make the state a coal hub: https://t.co/yVosY6mDxO The proposed 400 KV line through a wildlife sanctuary &National Park along the Western Ghats will choke the lungs of Goa. But w/this govt, crony capitalists prevail over people!
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) November 4, 2020
“The Chief Minister of Goa, Dr Pramod Sawant claims that these protests were organised not by locals but people from abroad,” a citizen reporter told The Quint.
The Environment Minister of Goa, Nilesh Cabral was however seen addressing a press conference, “Goa will not be a coal hub at all. This is a strong statement which I want to say on behalf of the government. There is an apprehension created in the minds of the people of Goa and expats across the world, that more coal will be brought to Goa. Currently, 10 to 12 million tons of coal is being imported annually. This will not increase. The government will look to make sure that the (quantum) will not increase”.
The infrastructure projects will not only destroy the sanctuary and national park in the Western Ghats but the locals are also concerned about the rising rates of coal pollution that would result in poor air quality. The surge in coal dust would not only be choking those who breathe on land but would also poison those underwater. A study by the National Institute of Oceanography found out that Mercury poisoning of oysters and clams harvested in waters surrounding the port.
The official stats show that 34,200 tonnes of coal are transported daily through the rail route from the port of Mormugao to Kelum in North Karnataka via Vasco and Margao, as the port is the nearest coal mine to a major steel plant in Karnataka. If the railway line were to be doubled along with the road expansion the results would be fatal.
The protesters have taken a stand and are not ready to budge. They have made it clear that they wouldn’t let Jindal South West (JSW) the largest coal importer along with Adani and Sesa Sterlite groups destroy their land. The Adani group that handles 10% of the import from Mormugao stated that this is a “politically driven agenda with vested interests that is misleading people” and dusted themselves off the claims.
The Adani Group refutes and condemns #FakeNews circulated by politically motivated groups about fictitious business interests comprising road and railway projects in the state of #Goa. pic.twitter.com/ITk2vRqJFy
— Adani Group (@AdaniOnline) November 5, 2020
Environmental activists, locals and a chunk of social media are concerned about saving the biodiversity hotspots who have been recognised as World Heritage Sites lately. The mainstream media however hasn’t given much coverage. The matters are of rising concern. It is Goa now, it could be any other state next. Its time we turn to our environment and give it the attention it has been longing for.