In 2009, while reporting on illegal mining of iron ore, my camera crew and I were attacked by the mining mafia in South Goa. A handful of men blocked our way with a big dumper truck and wouldn’t let us leave till we handed over tapes showing how they were mining in violation of orders of the Supreme Court that had banned mining in Goa.
Our images clearly showed how the mining waste was being dumped inside Mollem National Park. Mountains of waste had been piled up inside in clear violation of environment laws. In spite of the attack on my crew, we managed to escape with our tapes and broadcast the images on national television. The Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court issued a notice to the mines based on the visual evidence provided.
What Are The Offending Projects That Threaten Goa’s Wildlife?
And now in 2020, there’s fresh trouble brewing for Mollem National Park.
There are three infrastructure projects that threaten the forests in and around Mollem National Park and Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary.
In the middle of the lockdown, the National Board for Wildlife cleared or discussed more than 30 forest clearance proposals. Of these, two projects from Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary/Mollem National Park, Goa were cleared virtually by the National Board for Wildlife.
So far there have been six proposals submitted – two forest clearance proposals for NH-4A; three forest clearance proposals for railways; and one proposal for a transmission line – which amount to a diversion of 250.285 hectares.
This will allow 59,024 trees to be felled in and around Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park.
Specifically with respect to the protected area, 170 hectares are planned for forest diversion.
What Are Goans Saying About The Potentially Destructive Projects?
On the night of 1 November, braving the risk of the pandemic, hundreds of people gathered to register their protest against these projects. 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.
A number of people from different walks of life showed up. Here’s what Ancy Cardozo, Camorlim-Goa, who was there at the protest on the tracks had to say:
“I am a mother, and I care for the better future of our children. Coal will kill the identity of Goa. Coal burning majorly impacts the current crisis of climate change.”
Another protestor, Mithila Prabhudesai, a student from Panjim, observed:
“As we reached the tracks, we saw hordes of people who sat on the tracks, shouting out slogans and giving speeches, bringing out vibes of hope and unity. We were defining the Goa we wanted, peacefully with the police who tried to defuse tension, and we stood firm on the ground and decided that we won’t move until justice is delivered and the voices of Goans are heard. People – young and old – created an atmosphere that was energised; it was the Goa I hope, dream and will fight for!”
David Rodrigues, a resident of Borim, who was also at the protest site said he was there in spite of the threat of the coronavirus:
“If Goa is made a coal hub, no tourist will ever visit Goa; our state depends on revenue generated from tourism, and all sections of society will benefit, where as coal transportation will benefit only three corporates. Fear of corona will not stop me from fighting for what is right.”
How Exactly Will Goa’s Ecology Be Threatened By These Projects?
Each of the three projects that are being proposed will leave massive impacts on the protected area network of this tiny state and its natural resources.
Project I: 4 Laning NH 4A
The proposal to widen the highway within the protected area seeks to widen the existing double lane highway into a 4 lane highway with a total carriageway of 14 m and RoW of 26 m, largely by creating completely new roads held up on viaduct structures. The proposal, therefore, involves not just widening of certain sections but creating a new highway on viaducts in pristine and hitherto untouched parts of the wildlife sanctuary and national park.
This proposal involves the cutting of 12,097 trees and the diversion of about 31.015 hectares of protected forest area (24.265 in the National Park and 6.75 in the WLS).
Project 2: Transmission Line Construction
The second project is a part of the 400 kV D/C Narendra (Karnataka) – Xeldem (Goa) Transmission Line which starts at Narendra village in Dharwad District, Karnataka and terminates at 400/220 kV substation at Xeldem in Goa. The project is being carried out by M/s Goa – Tamnar Transmission Project Ltd (Sterlite Power).
About 3.15 km of the transmission line is proposed to be constructed through the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary. As per the application, the line would be 46 metre in width, requiring a diversion of 11. 54 hectares of area from the wildlife sanctuary, and involves the cutting of 4139 trees.
Project 3: Doubling of Railway Line
The third project is the Castlerock-Kulem Railway Doubling. This project is part of the larger Hospet-Tinaighat-Castelrock-Kulem-Vasco Railway doubling project being undertaken by the M/s Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL). The total length of the line is 345 km.
The railway line passes through the sanctuary in two parts, and two separate proposals have been submitted.
Castlerock forests are part of Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve (DATR), in Karnataka, while forests between the Goa-Karnataka border and Kulem fall within the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary (BMWLS) in Goa.
As per the application for wildlife approvals, this project involves the diversion of 20,758 trees to be felled.
Four underpasses, measuring 12 m in width and 5.65 m in height, have been proposed as mitigation measures.
What’s At Stake For Goa?
Hundreds of wildlife species, including Schedule-I and Schedule-II endangered species such as the tiger (Panthera tigris), dhole (Cuon alpinus), mouse deer (Moschiola indica), gaur (Bos gaurus), and Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) will be threatened.
The sanctuary is also home to more than 70 mammal species, 235 bird species, 219 butterfly species, 44 fish species, 45 reptile species, 27 amphibian species. The three projects cut through different areas of the national park will INCREASE cases of human and wildlife conflict.
Dudhsagar is one of the tallest waterfalls (310 mts) of India, and this forest is an important revenue source for nature-based tourism. Along with Dudhsagar, hundreds of river-feeders originate in this forest and are the lifeline for the state’s water supply. Little wonder then, that hundreds of Goans have taken to the streets to mark their protest against these big infrastructure projects.
(Bahar Dutt is an award winning environment journalist and author of two books. This article is based on inputs provided by the Citizens Group in Goa. She tweets @bahardutt. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)