• Associate Sponsor

Coal burying Goa: Danger ahead, new coal corridor is coming up

Coal Burying Goa: New 4-lane road for coal in the works, avoids towns but ignores warnings to slice through hillocks, forest, wetlands and paddy fields

Written by Smita Nair | Updated: October 28, 2017 11:52 am
goa coal industry, coal, coal Goa, Goa, coal burying Goa, coal burying Goa, Coal indian express, Goa trains, Goa toxic trains, Mormugao port, Karnataka coal, JSW, goa coal, goa coal pictures, goa pictures, goa coal corridor, coal industry goa, india news, indian express investigation, indian express goa investigation A new flyover under construction near Mormugao port towers over Baina beach in Goa. (Source: Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty)

Seen from a distance, they resemble a fish bone — concrete structures that rise above the beach and climb a hillock, their heights calculated “at one metre above the highest anticipated water calamity level” and designed to “dodge the tallest tsunami”.

These constitute the frame of the second coal evacuation route over road that is coming up in Goa, a 24.5-km stretch — two strips of 18 km and 6.5 km, respectively — that will skirt heavily populated areas, including Vasco town and at least six panchayats, while slashing the travel time from the port to the Western Ghats by at least an hour.

Transport of coal, at the rate of 25 tonnes per minute, by rail and road, as an ongoing investigation by The Indian Express has revealed, has left in its wake environmental damage across Goa. Much more coal is on the way — an estimated 51 million tonnes every year by 2030 — and this new route being built is a grim testament to the challenges that lie ahead. As a four-lane super carriageway that will link Mormugao port to NH17 — Maharashtra to Kerala — before it joins up with NH4A that leads to steel factories in Karnataka.

Express Investigation part 1: Coal on move, 25 tonnes a minute, is choking Goa, more is on the way

With Goa allocating Rs184.05 crore in 2017-2018 for the second stretch of this expansion, called the “missing link”, officials at the state’s Public Works Department (PWD) describe the project as a “development commitment to the people of Goa” to “unclog the growing traffic density”.

Officials and transporters say the existing 124.5-km road route from the port to the Karnataka border is “long, not cost-effective and has a lot more potential of litigation” for any further expansion. The new route, records show, can support “a convoy of 28-tonne coal trucks” while slicing through three hillocks, a forest, levelling wetlands and paddy fields, even pushing back a village.

The Indian Express tracked this new trail (see map) on the ground to find that in the enthusiasm behind construction, several official red flags, records show, have been ignored — from warnings about unstable cliffsides to the risk to fragile forests.

See | Images from Ground Zero of the coal routes in Goa

goa coal industry, coal, coal Goa, Goa, coal burying Goa, coal burying Goa, Coal indian express, Goa trains, Goa toxic trains, Mormugao port, Karnataka coal, JSW, goa coal, goa coal pictures, goa pictures, goa coal corridor, coal industry goa, india news, indian express investigation, indian express goa investigation A section of the new route under construction near the Mormugao port, leading to Vernapuri. (Source: Express Photo/Amit Chakravarty)

Stretch 1: Mormugao to Vernapuri, 18 km

Unlike the existing road route, which heads east before dipping down, the new route circles the port land in the opposite direction, avoiding the town of Vasco before linking back to the old route in Dabolim, 10 km away. This stretch starts with two branches that leave cargo gates No.1 on the east and No. 9 on the west, looping like a garland under the port before joining to form a four-lane corridor at Baina beach along the coast. But before it reaches Baina, the route cuts through landslide-prone Sada cliff.

On April 16, 2015, the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA), the state regulatory body monitoring Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) norms, discussed a report submitted by its then member secretary Dr Antonio Mascarenhas, a former scientist with the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), who warned against heavy construction on laterite soil at Sada.

Express Investigation part 2: What the toxic train leaves in its wake

According to the minutes of that meeting, Mascarenhas’s report asked “whether or not an edge of a steep cliff will bear a 4-lane road and the consequent heavy traffic?” It described the “geological stability of this cliff edge” as “unstable” and in a “No Development Zone”. The report said: “It may also be noted that not a single similar example of a flyover along a sandy beach can be found in India.”

Responding to the GCZMA’s concerns, PWD engineers replied that “geo technically, Sada Hillock is the most stable strata one can encounter in engineering structure”. In fact, records show, the Mormugao Port Trust itself wrote to the chief town planner in 2011, asking for “slope protection work” at the cliff, citing a landslide in 1999 — the last reported landslide here was in 2012. But PWD officials replied that the elevated highway was in line with established norms and that there was “a resolution unanimously adopted by the Goa State Assembly to construct a flyover at this stretch”.

Express Investigation part 3: All along the road route, the black dust settles

Below the cliff, is the Tariwada-Desterro beach, where Shaukat Haveri, 36, says coastal erosion and the new coal route is pushing them out of their homes. “Two years ago, authorities demolished my house along with 70 other homes of traditional fishermen. They put many of us on top of Sada, they said we were rehabilitated… The official who came to raze my house said it was in violation of CRZ norms and posed a threat to the coast. Isn’t this super carriageway violating any norms?” says Haveri, pointing to a 20m tall concrete pillar above.

On the Baina beach, Sajid Shaikh, 33, is anxious. “I follow my father’s advice, ‘respect the sea or face her wrath’. But unfortunately, the wrath we feared all our life has now sneaked from behind,” he says, standing under the tall concrete columns. A site inspection report on the flyover at Baina, conducted for GCZMA by Mascarenhas, states, “The validity of and the need for a 1.5 kilometre flyover along Baina does not seem to stand scientific scrutiny because it runs too close to an ecologically sensitive beach that suffers annual erosion… Digging of huge pits for the foundations of several columns is bound to disturb the ecological stability of a sensitive beach.”

See photos of the toxic coal train leaving Goa

The report also confirms that 2.5 km of the elevated highway across the Baina beach comes under the purview of the norms laid out in CRZ 2011. The construction continues till Vernapuri, 3 km from Baina, where the carriageway will climb another hillock, before connecting to the four-lane road passing parallel to the Dabolim International Airport. The road from here cuts through the industrial corridor in Verna, which houses a clutch of corporates, including Siemens, Tata Motors, IFB, Pfizer, Blue Dart, Eicher, Mahindra & Mahindra, Maruti Suzuki and Bosch.

Stretch 2: Verna to Borim, 6.5 km

The second stretch is the “missing link” from Verna to Borim, where chunks of land have already been levelled. Construction is yet to begin but the warning signs are clearly visible.

Ahead, the forest gets thicker. On this stretch, Goa’s Forest Department has applied for diversion of 5.18 hectares of forest cover for the 40m-wide coal road to stretch down the slope. Forest Department records show that they expect over 1,000 trees to be cut. Activists have claimed in public hearings that this expansion will also involve cutting a hill at parts, flattening a forest stretch, and uprooting “some very old trees”.

On September 5, 2015, the office of the Deputy Conservator of Forests, South Goa Division, wrote to the PWD Executive Engineer of Fatorda, cautioning against any excess cutting of forests. The letter pointed out that “the area is forestry in nature” and that several hectares were “included in the list of prospective private forests as identified by South Goa Private Forest Committee”. The letter also pointed to the absence of proper demarcation to mark the width of the proposed highway.

According to the expansion plan, the highway slides down a hill before moving through a stretch of wetland and paddy fields, and reaching Loutolim — the ancestral village of the legendary cartoonist, the late Mario Miranda. Among the casualties of the new coal corridor here is Casa Mascarenhas, an ancestral Goan home where Ramiro Mascarenhas, 43, stays with his wife and 15-month-old daughter. The markings for the road-widening project end at their doorstep. Opposite Casa Mascarenhas, the 340-year-old Our Lady of Milagres chapel will lose its steps.

“Till about two years ago, as the forest cover above Verna started getting trimmed, we used to spot foxes and some wild monkeys regularly. Now, a neighbour will lose his ancestral house, another his orchard. With the new road eating into my compound walls and coming so close to my door, it’s bound to damage it,” says Mascarenhas. He has been informed by PWD that of the “seven options” being considered for the new route project, “at least six” will lead to his courtyard being trimmed. “After I officially wrote to the PWD, they confirmed that soil testing is happening in all options and a decision will be taken soon,” he says.

The irony, however, is that Mascarenhas is a truck operator, charging Rs 440 for every tonne of coal that is shipped to companies in Goa from Mormugao. “But this highway expansion is not for cargo inside Goa. This is for companies outside,” he argues. From Casa Mascarenhas, the new road will reach Borim. Here, a second bridge is being planned over the Zuari river alongside the existing one. According to PWD officials, various official agencies “are still studying the best route to take to ensure minimum destruction”. “They should be ready with a plan soon,” says a PWD official. Once that bridge is completed, the new stretch will link NH17B and NH4A to complete the new coal corridor to Karnataka.

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App

  1. P
    Praful Vora
    Oct 28, 2017 at 10:47 pm
    Electric city how do you get call move from one place to another in the plane or boat so think twice we are talking about 40 m of rude and that's also a liberty Bridge so there is a space B Lloyd and number of trees cut can be regrown replanted somewhere else so your reasoning for all this abnormality is doesn't make any sense
    1. B
      Oct 28, 2017 at 1:01 pm
      These Muslims complain, even, when a Hindu breath. If, they don't like development, leave for your home land you got in 1947.
      1. V
        Oct 28, 2017 at 11:41 am
        May be the government can bore a tunnel from Goa port to Karnataka coal field and convey the coal through a giant conveyor belt. I doubt , even that method will meet with the approval of the clean skin IE paper. If the government bans the coal then they will accuse the government of denying the mega bucks to the people. I wonder What can modi do to shut up IE. may be cut the allocation of news print like Indira Gandhi did in the seventies. Ie, I don,t think you will publish this but I am writing this to register my protest against your biased and what appears to be paid reporting.
        1. B
          Oct 28, 2017 at 1:00 pm
          Cancel the license of this paper on treason grounds.
        2. Nelson Petrie
          Oct 28, 2017 at 9:26 am
          Countries that have the cleanest environments are those with the least population. These include Germany, Denmark, Norway, Finland, France, Canada, New Zealand and Japan. People of these countries are very disciplined, are conscious of their environment and take their social responsibilities seriously. Their governments have social programs like free and clean health services, free and modern education, free day-care centers for children and the elderly and so on. Above all they have a clean environment with abundant forests and wildlife. Reason? They have a small and manageable population. Our government should devote more of its resources to control India's exploding population. That's the crux of the problem in our country. Also, religion and culture in these countries play little or no role at all. They give more importance to their environment than to religion and culture unlike India.
          1. V
            Oct 28, 2017 at 12:00 pm
            Hi nelson I agree with you on every thing have written. Have you recently visited any cities in Main land china.or Japan. The present day china rivels any cities in the Us in cleanliness. so it is not the government or population that make us clean. It is us,we Indians needs a fundamental change in our at ude. "cleanliness is godliness" must be taught, demanded and enforced. How many times we have seen the kitchen wastes from palatial houses are thrown on the street. How many times we have experienced heavy metal wastes are polluting our water ways. Balladur lake is a prime example. Don't blame Mr Siddhartha. We indirectly allow him to let it happen. If a message is sent to him that his electoral fortune is tied up in a clean Bangalore. He will become a magician ane make Bangalore the venice of the west Asia.An old proverb says only crying babies get the Milk . still hold true.
            1. B
              Oct 28, 2017 at 1:19 pm
              I fully agree with you on every point. But, in India try to control population growth, immediately "Islam is in danger" will be broadcast from every mosque, award wapsi thugs will go on rampage, have a guess what Congress, Mamta, Mulayam, Laloo, Kejriwal will do ? Supreme Court will declare it a illegal act. No, the b er mistake committed by Gandhi and Nehru in 1947 has sealed the fate of India. On top of that 35 million Bangladeshi illegal migrants and 40 thousand Rohingyas are entered India through WB. Nio my friend, nothing can be done. Today's news in The Hindustan Times is that Bangladeshi government is considering sterilization of Rohingyas, can Indian government even dare to think like that ?
            2. Nelson Petrie
              Oct 28, 2017 at 9:10 am
              Coal is the worst option that can be used for providing energy. This coal, in any case, is exported to be used somewhere else and Goa is having to pay for this. People who put development over environment, and I include the political segment, the department officials who will give any excuse to destroy the fragile ecology and the environment of this tiny state, the business houses who profit enormously from this venture, the railways and other interest groups, will be responsible for destroying this beautiful state. What development will you expect in the future when the air you breathe, the water you drink and your soil is gone. Forests, so important for our existence, too will be destroyed. This 'bania' government thinks only of profit and not the environment. The Goan people chose this way by electing the 'banias'. You may make all the profit you want but you will never, never be able to recover the environment you destroyed by your greed. Learn from Denmark and Germany.
              1. C
                Curious onlooker
                Oct 28, 2017 at 9:57 am
                Such blissful idealism could flourish in countries with smaller populations. India on the other hand is bristling with overpopulation with hardly anything to go around either to feed them or house them. Rectifying issues that is a result of overpopulation must become a global problem requiring a global effort than being left to the affected nations to resolve.
                1. L
                  Lucian DSilva
                  Oct 28, 2017 at 2:49 pm
                  Good Reporting Indian Express. It shows that you value environment over other aspects and it is true. We all depend on nature for air, water and food and Nature can fulfil men s' every need NOT greed. If coal in its dust form continue to arrive at the Marmugoa Port then not before long entire Goa state will look like a scrape junk-yard, filled with thick layer of black dust all over, no vegetation, no trees no monsoon, as seen in Gujarat where monsoon ceased to exist, its all year around summer dry spell. Goans will become sick citizens in the twilight of their life. Ministers will blame somebody to be Italians etc but themselves will fly non-stop in Italian aircrafts and roam around the Globe avoiding Italy, their childrens, relatives and communities after communities settled in AmericaS, Australia, Europe - What a sheer non-sense, we people ourselves are to be blamed for our fate, now time is lost for us!!!
                2. Load More Comments