Updated: July 29, 2021 9:17:10 am
The three-day session of the Goa legislative assembly, which began on Wednesday, was rocked with issues related to the environment and the double-tracking of the Kulem-Castle Rock railway track. Opposition MLAs questioned the government on the railways double-tracking, which was shot down by the Supreme Court’s Central Empowerment Committee (CEC) in April raising serious environmental concerns.
The doubling of the railway line from Castle Rock in Karnataka to Kulem in Goa, the four-laning of a national highway and the Goa-Tanmar Transmission Project are the three linear projects that have been met with sustained opposition from environmentalists, locals and NGOs.
Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant, who also holds the forests portfolio, stated that his government will file its say over the CEC’s findings before the Supreme Court. Sawant said that while the CEC had raised objections to the railway double-tracking project, it had not said the same about the other two projects.
“It (CEC report) has recommended that the land acquisition for double-tracking of railways be scrapped. They have allowed the construction of the power lines on the old alignment and not on the new one. These recommendations are before the Supreme Court. The SC has not taken a decision on this yet. The government of Goa will file its say in the SC.”
Independent MLA Rohan Khaunte had asked the government about its stand on the CEC’s recommendation. In its report dated April 23, the CEC had stated that it did not find any justification in doubling the railway track from Castle Rock in Karnataka to Kulem in Goa as it “will destroy the fragile eco-system of the Western Ghats which is an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot and also one of the most important wildlife corridors of the country”.
In his written reply to questions about the benefits of the double-tracking project asked by Vijai Sardesai, Sawant, however, stated, “This is an important project for strengthening infrastructure and to improve connectivity which will lead to the socio-economic development of people of the state of Goa. Apart from this, the project is also important from a defence strategic point of view to meet any requirement of naval command at Goa at short notice in case of any emergency.”
Sawant said that the land acquisition for the double-tracking project was being carried out by the Centre and the state government was only facilitating it.
The linear projects that will cut through the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary (BMWS) and the Mollem National Park (MNP) in South Goa had been cleared by the Centre last year despite red flags being raised at various levels. Environmentalists, locals, students and various groups had agitated against these projects that shaped the ‘Save Mollem’ movement in November-December, 2020.
In his reply, Sawant also stated that 21,878 trees had been enumerated in the forest and protected area for the execution of the railway project. “However, the actual number of trees that will be felled can be ascertained only at the time of commencement of work.” He stated that permission to fell 3,511 trees had been granted in non-forest areas.
Sawant also listed the mitigation measures that would serve in the interest of the environment including the impact on wildlife and movement of wild animals in the forest area. Eight underpasses have been proposed on the stretch of about 80 km to facilitate “smooth movement and crossing of wild animals,” he stated.
Opposition MLAs from the Congress, Goa Forward Party (GFP) and independents vehemently demanded answers from the Pramod Sawant-led BJP government on issues including the railway double-tracking project, the river Mhadei dispute with Karnataka, private forests and illegal constructions along rivers.
To a question raised by BJP MLA Alina Saldanha, from the Curtorim assembly constituency in South Goa, about the total state revenue department’s stand on the CEC report, revenue minister Jennifer Monserrate said, “Revenue Department is executing various laws regarding the procurement of land, in the process of making land available to SWR. The Revenue Department is not a party to the Central Empowered Committee report.”
Replying to Saldanha’s question, Monserrate also stated that the total land to be acquired for the double-tracking of the railway project is 153.17 ha. This includes diversion of forest land of 138.3916 ha, transfer of government land of 2.4628 ha and procurement of private land under Policy on procurement of land under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 of 4.2147 ha and that processed under Railway Act, 1989 of 8.10127 ha.
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