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Friday, May 20, 2022

Doubling of rail track: Goans claim victory as apex court sets aside clearances for project

The midnight protest was staged days after the railway authorities started laying tracks at a village in South Goa.

Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR | Panaji |
Updated: May 10, 2022 5:43:36 am
The midnight protest was staged days after the railway authorities started laying tracks at a village in South Goa. (Pic courtesy Save Mollem Campaign)

Amid the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in November 2020, about 3,000 people had gathered in Chandor in South Goa to protest the doubling of the railway track between Castle Rock in Karnataka and Kulem in Goa.

The midnight protest was staged days after the railway authorities started laying tracks at a village in South Goa. It was one of the three projects that faced staunch opposition from Goa’s environmentalists, students, locals against the felling of trees in the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mollem National Park for the projects that, they alleged, were envisaged only for the expansion of coal imports from the Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) to Karnataka. The ‘Save Mollem’ campaign spread far and wide on social media and garnered support from the rest of India and even NRIs.

Claude Alvares, director of NGO Goa Foundation that had challenged the clearances granted to the three projects, said that the SC’s decision on Monday was a “major victory” for Goans opposed to the project.

Alvares said that even if the SC allowed the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) to re-apply for fresh clearances while setting aside the National Board of Wildlife’s clearance given to the double track project but re-applying will not be very difficult since the apex court had accepted in the April 2021 report of the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) that it “will destroy the fragile eco-system of the Western Ghats that is an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot and also one of the most important wildlife corridors of the country”.

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The SC’s decision also comes a day after camera traps sighted a black panther in the Mollem National Park.

In April 2021, the CEC appointed by the top court had shot down the key rail expansion project in Goa and recommended crucial changes to two other projects — a highway and a power transmission line in the state. The projects are known commonly as the three linear projects in Goa. Ahead of the Assembly elections held this February, the Congress party had promised to scrap the three projects if voted to power.

Environmentalist and Congress leader Captain Viriato Fernandes said the SC’s decision was a victory for “all those who stuck their neck out for saving Goa from falling into the hands of crony capitalists”. Senior Congress leader Digambar Kamat said that this was a victory of “Goemkars (Goans) and (the) identity of Goa”.

Goa Forward Party president Vijai Sardesai said, “I request the CM to withdraw the cases filed against activists for protesting against the project, as a gesture of goodwill. After all, they fought for the interest of Goa”.

“This is a huge victory for the Goans who worked tirelessly for the Amche Mollem campaign… the state Wildlife Advisory Board members should now take a firm stand and pass a resolution against this double tracking project for the sake of the natural heritage that they love,” the Amche Mollem Citizens Group said on Monday.

Orville Dourado, founder member of Goencho Ekvott, an umbrella body of 36 organisations that had opposed the linear projects, said some homes are as close to the existing single railway track as 4 metres. “The government must forthwith scrap all three linear projects in totality,” he said.

“The fragile ecosystem of the Western Ghats and the internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot and wildlife corridor have been saved from destruction. Let our government know that we want and will always support sustainable development,” Father Bolmax Pareira, who also supported the Save Mollem movement, said.

“I have always maintained that we support sustainable development by involving stake-holders. It appears that our stand has been vindicated,” said Max de Souza of Villagers’ Action Group.

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