By 2020, 25 million tonnes of coal will be unloaded at the Mormugao Port, on Goa’s western-most tip, every year. That is enough coal to produce nearly 32.5 million tonnes of steel or 4,400 times the metal that was required for the Eiffel Tower and almost 600 times the steel that was required for the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in Dubai. But in its efforts to dock and profit from the coal, the Central government-owned port, Goans say, has spread the “devil’s dust” onto their homes and roads, putting at risk entire villages and towns.
The infrastructure upgradation to facilitate the coal movement has left families clinging onto ancestral properties, traditional fisherman worried about their livelihood, farmers anxious for their fields and ecologists agonising over the impact on the land. Over a four-month-long investigation, The Sunday Express travelled the 600-km coal trail to document the fears and anxieties of a state, afraid that the coal is not only blackening lungs, threatening fragile forests, countless streams and rivers, but forever altering their very way of life.
Express Investigation part 1: Coal on move, 25 tonnes a minute, is choking Goa, more is on the way
“Coal harms edifices. Our culture is our way of living, our surrounding, our heritage structures, our youth, our greenery, our animals, our habitation, even our way of greeting. The port is only looking at balance sheets,” says Cyril Fernandes, a researcher who specialises on Goa’s tribal history and indigenous culture. Activists allege regulations are being flouted, with even gram panchayats granting permission for land acquisition unopposed, while most point out that there is little resistance as only the elderly are left, with the youth, pushed by a lack of opportunities in the state, looking elsewhere to make a living.
Lumina D’Costa Almeida, 63
Living just 70 metres from the coal tracks, Almeida has first-hand experience of the trouble coal has caused — her husband Rodney now suffers from asthma.
“You bring highways and a sense of hurriedness. You won’t appreciate susegad (a ‘quiet’ life) and it’s importance for a healthy living. Your definition of development is different from ours.”
Express Investigation part 2: What the toxic train leaves in its wake
Zulema barros Pereira, 85
Pereira’s house is across the coal tracks. She says there is lack of basic healthcare in her village, forcing its residents to knock on the homes of private doctors even at odd hours.
“Development has to first be in accordance with the needs of the local inhabitants. First connect society with social parameters, then coal with corporates. Give us a hospital first.”
Alcinha Fernandes, 45
Homemaker, Sao Jose De Areal
Trucks carrying petroleum coke pass by her verandah, while rail tracks parallel to her house carry coal to Karnataka. Her windows are sealed with plastic to keep coal dust out
“We used to dry fish in our courtyard and chat in our balcaos. Nowadays, I sit and note registration numbers of trucks and the time they pass by my house. I know it will not change anything, but it’s for my satisfaction.”
Bharat Desai, 53
His field is on a plot marked for a coal stack. The farmers are now planning to take the legal route to fight the acquisition
“Everyone is behaving like coal — landing up uninvited. We grow rice here; we cannot give it up for coal. Earlier we used dry fish as manure but port activity anyway killed that. Now, they have come here to spread coal dust on our fields.”
Express Investigation part 3: All along the road route, the black dust settles
Efa Saldanha, 60
Sister of the late politician Jose Mathanhy de Saldanha, who fought for special status for Goa, Efa says the coal tracks threaten her ancestral house built in the Kadamba era
“So many rulers right till the Portuguese didn’t destroy our home. It’s sad that these coal trucks will finally bring it down. Mathanhy always told me the fisherfolk were our identity. Now, our fish are being destroyed. Our fields are being filled up.”
Damodar Mauzo, 73
His Goan “house of memories” is just 20 metres from the railway tracks at Majorda. From his window, he says, he sometimes counts endless wagons go by.
“I once wrote of a woman hugging a tree when the railways comes to acquire her land. Look at the irony. The drama will soon play out right outside my doorstep.”
Express Investigation part 4: Danger ahead, new coal corridor is coming up
Meena Berretto, 32
Homemaker, Sao Jose De Areal
A mother of two, Berretto says Goans, particularly women, rely on two-wheelers for their daily errands. She says the coal dust from trucks “sometimes blind her”
“These may sound trivial to an outsider but riding behind these trucks sometimes is a matter of life and death. Without expanding public transport for locals, they are building highways for the trucks.”
Abhijit Prabhudesai, 50
From attending NGT hearings, to conducting awareness programmes across gram panchayats in the state, Abhijit is at the forefront of the battle against big coal.
“We need to leave for the future what we received from the past — abundance of water, abundance of resources and an abundance of community spirit. If we cannot improve on it, we should at least not destroy it.”
Custodio D’Souza, 45
D’Souza has approached the National Green Tribunal to prevent the Mormugao port from dredging the seabed, to accommodate vessels that hold double the amount of coal.
“I keep hearing Manohar Parrikar returned to Goa for fish curry and rice. How then is he allowing such rampant abuse of the seabed, which is wiping out the indigenous fishing community. And for coal?”
Edmund Miranda, 74
Bar owner, Guirdolim
At Guirdolim, popular for the Feast of the Three Kings, Edmund and his wife have their house and run a bar right by the tracks. His land is being acquired for track expansion.
“They (Railways) came and marked some yellow paint. One brush mark on this coconut tree, another on the mango tree, and the last on my breadfruit tree. They came in the dark, left in the dark. Is it that simple?”
Ramiro Mascarenhas, 43
Truck contractor, Loutolim
The PWD office has informed Mascarenhas that he stands to lose the entire courtyard of his ancestral home, he shares with wife Priti and infant daughter Chrysanne
“I can build a house elsewhere too. But heritage, now that cannot be built. It is our identity. These rooms, balcaos and even our attic holds stories from our past… and they are non-negotiable.”
Santano Vaz, 44
Researcher, Sancoale Bay
A member of the Sancoale bio-diversity management committee, Vaz lives by the Zuari river. His last study was on local mussels, which he says has disappeared from the waters.
“When trips by barges carrying iron ore reduced after the Supreme Court order, window pane oysters began reappearing in our waters. After Philippines, they only breed here. Now with coal, they could be gone forever.”
Milagres Fernandes, 61
Fernandes is the owner of Pascoal Spice Farms, which draws tourists for its collection of exotic plants and spices. It is now in the path of the coal trucks.
“The government has to decide if it wants to encourage agriculture or coal. All these tropical species I grow will wilt if the trucks keep increasing as they will increase the temperature around here.”