AS THE public hearing against expansion of coal handling berths at Goa’s Mormugao Port Trust began on the eighth, and concluding, day on Friday, Sherwyn Correia, 17, sought to take the podium at Tilak Maidan in Vasco. The Class XII had to do some convincing to be allowed. The Additional Collector, who along with other representatives from the Collectorate office and Dr Mohan Girap, a scientist from Goa Pollution Control Board, was conducting the hearing, allowed Sherwyn only after he pleaded, “I will finish in five minutes. They are just six pages (long). Only the font (size of letters) looks big.”
At around 10 am, Sherwyn was the day’s first speaker. By the time the session wound up around 9 pm, it became the longest public hearing Goa, and probably the country, has seen in recent times — and Sherwyn, who pleaded with the port authorities to “leave the children alone”, its youngest speaker and the event’s face.
Speaking against pollution raised by open handling of coal, the teen asked the port officials, “What have we done to you to deserve this? You are hampering our future; you are hampering our right to clean air and clean environment.”
Currently at a little over 12 million tons, Mormugao Port Trust in Vasco is planning to push for expansion of four berths and capital dredging as it envisages a four-fold expansion at over 50 million tons of coal import by 2030. The authorities aim to position Mormugao as the strategic choice for the growing steel industry in north Karnataka.
With iron ore mining in Goa taking a hit, coal imports now make for the port’s profit side of the balance sheet.
Starting April 26, with April 30 and May 1 being holidays, the public hearing saw housewives, fisherfolk, marine biologists, engineers, former mining employees, members of opposition political parties, priests, activists, lawyers, senior citizens and cancer patients, among others, come together to oppose what they call a plan to convert Goa into a coal corridor.
The hearing took three projects separately: the first is the proposed terminal capacity expansion of two berths run by Jindal’s South West Port Limited to double coal imports to 14 million tonnes. The second is capital dredging of approach channel and inner sin for capsize vessels by Mormugao Port, and the third being being another bunch on three berths being expanded for coal imports by Adani, and another by Vedanta and Adani through a public-private partnership.
Having decided to “speak up on behalf of the children of Vasco and Goa”, Sherwyn said, “Every day when I go to school and swipe my fingertip on my desk I get black coal dust. My school is located just across the road — if this is the amount of coal dust that settles on our desks, I cannot fathom the amount that each child has inhaled over the last several years.
“The rich and well-to-do moved out of Vasco to save themselves from pollution of coal-dust. But what about the thousands, particularly children, who cannot afford another home, and who continue to suffer? Will my children some day be able to enjoy the corals, the dolphins and the other invaluable marine life in Goa’s waters?”
Post-hearing, he said, “I heard all the elders speak for us. We are the future. Our fish is toxic, the water is getting ugly, and the air we breathe is no longer pure. My younger brother is six, and he is constantly suffering with cold, fever and with a running nose. I owe it to him.”
Abijit Prabhudesai, a legal expert, said, “This is unprecedented for the manner and scale in which the hearing has shaped. This was denied to us before; none of us knew the expansion plans until (Union Road Transport and Highways and Shipping Minister) Nitin Gadkari came to inaugurate the capital dredging project in January 2016 — Gadkari had, in the first place, removed these projects outside of mandatory public hearings. The entire EIA (environmental impact assessment) report the port has put out is also misleading on various fronts. The officials seem to have no answers for any questions raised.”
Sherwyn’s father Savio, who pointed out discrepancies in all three EIA reports, said, “The public hearing’s biggest success was in the manner citizens were able to bring the EIA to scrutiny. The authorities have been stonewalling on these issues for more than two years, (but) here they had to come on record. (Besides,) these projects are being shown separately by the port and these hearings have proved that the cumulative impact from all three stands strong when looked together — the capital dredging is to allow bigger vessels to allow for bigger tonnage of coal imports. The whole plan of expansion of highways is being done only to shape Goa as a coal corridor, and the hearing was in some way able to expose that.”
Representing the fisherfolk, Olencio Simons said, “The large amount of contaminated water discharged into the sea after being used by the project proponents for dust suppression has resulted in dark patches in the sea, killing the flora and fauna.”
Dr Mohan Girap of the state PCB said, “People were very responsive. Our job is to ensure they are satisfied with the hearing. We are now recording their minutes. This will be forwarded to the MoEF (Ministry of Environment & Forests) to make changes in EIA reports.”