Villagers in several areas assembled across landmarks in Goa on the occasion of Independence Day as they staged symbolic protests against several infrastructure projects, which they fear will impact natural and heritage habitats.
A day after Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said that “all the protests” to the projects are coming from NRIs settled abroad, local residents came to designated locations at 8 am to hold banners and stand in solidarity, mainly against three linear projects — a power line, double tracking of existing railways, and widening of highways, cutting through Western Ghats and crawling through the villages right to the western coast.
With several campaigns taking shape in the last few months, many outfits joined hands for an umbrella campaign called ‘Goencho Ekvott’, which saw assembly of people across coastal villages such as Cansaulim, Velsao, Utorda and Majorda; locations in Mollem and Cullem where the projects are supposed to first enter Goa, and other areas, including Vasco and Dabolim.
In Cansaulim, the assembly took place beneath the statue of José Matanhy de Saldanha, a social activist who fought for the Goan identity and safeguarding its coast and villages. “We are here to celebrate India and to celebrate our villages from Velsao to Mollem. Not everything needs to be pushed in the words of development,” said Jose Cabral. “We do not want such disproportionate scale of infrastructure which comes at the cost of our villages.”
While the groups in east Goa protested against the impact on landmarks such as the Western Ghats, families in coastal villages on the west protested against losing their homes to expansion of railway tracks.
Olencio Simoes, who has been fighting for the rights of fisherfolk in Goa, told the crowd, “On one hand we speak of banning Chinese apps but we do not shy from duplicating Chinese development governance mood which is dictatorial and ignores the welfare of its own citizens…”
The organisers saida message was sent out a day before and the response has been “heartening”. Captain Viriato, of Goencho Ekvott, spoke of the Covid-19 deaths in Vasco. “Of the total Covid deaths, the maximum were from around Vasco, around the port where the coal is dumped. The frequent coal import has been impacting respiratory organs of those who live in the vicinity and Covid has shown us… ”
Various 10-minute meets took place across the coastal belt with villagers in each pocket voicing their opinion. At Utorda, Angelo Pereira said trains bringing coal in huge quantities can cause hardship and health hazard to people in the state. In Mollem, the other end of the state, children stood holding banners around the forests which stand to be diverted for the projects once they get clearance.
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