A train passes through a part of the Bhagwan Mahavir Sanctuary. Photo: Purshi/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0
- A citizens’ movement in Goa resisting three developmental projects in the state, has received the Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Service Award.
- The projects involve a railway line, a transmission line and a national highway, and will need almost 40,000 trees on forest land to be cut.
- There’s still a long way ahead and the ‘Amche Mollem’ campaign has to go on, campaigners said after receiving the award.
Kochi: A Goa citizens’ campaign protesting three projects that together will need 40,000 trees to be cut in two protected areas in the state is one of 2021’s winners of the Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Service Awards.
People participating in the protest said after winning the award that there is still a long way to go and that their ‘Amche Mollem’ campaign will continue.
Last year, citizens rallied together into what has since grown into the ‘Amche Mollem’ campaign to protest three developmental projects in the state. The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) had granted (virtual, i.e. after deliberating by video) clearances to two of these projects during the national COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
Together, these projects will need around 250 hectares of forest land from the protected areas of the Mollem National Park and the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary, and will cost almost Rs 250 crore.
One of these two is Rail Vikas Nigam Limited’s proposal to double-track the railway line from Tinaighat-Castlerock in Karnataka to Kulem in Goa, and will require forest land currently inside the Bhagawan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary in Goa. Activists have alleged that this project intends to transport coal from Goa to steel plants in north Karnataka. However, officials of the South Western Railways have maintained that the project is “aimed at strengthening the railway network and improving connectivity”, including attracting more tourists, according to Times of India.
The Goa-Tanmar Transmission Line Project, which will be implemented by Sterlite Power, involves laying a 400-kV transmission line and constructing a sub-station in Sangod in Goa – and these activities will require trees to be cut.
The third project is to widen National Highway 4A, from Belagavi to Panaji, from the existing two lanes to four lanes. The Centre approved it in 2019.
All three projects came under conservations’ scanner due to an “absence of assessment of the threats to green cover and wildlife that the projects pose, and a consequent lack of mitigation measures,” The Hindu reported in January this year.
The Sanctuary Asia award, announced by video on December 4, lauded the coming together of “ordinary Goans” for ‘Amche Mollem’, the role of youth in the campaign, and the creative ways in which citizens have communicated their opposition to the projects.
Claude Alvares, director of the Goa Foundation, a local environmental action group, and one of the coordinators of the campaign, said the campaign was researched and run by its younger members, who used different means to take their message across to the people at large. The ‘Amche Mollem’ campaign has a strong social media presence as well.
Protests have included demonstrations at railway tracks, online petitions, penning poems about Goa’s biodiversity and using art for outreach. Citizen resistance efforts are still ongoing.
“There is a long way ahead and the Amche Mollem Citizens Effort has to go on,” wildlife conservationist Nandini Velho, a faculty member at the Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, and a member of the team coordinating the campaign, told The Wire Science. “What makes me happy is that this award is not given to a group or a person, and espouses the power of pluralism and inclusiveness that goes beyond NGOs, courts or scientists.”
The award is an “important recognition”, Alvares said, and the campaign has run “extraordinarily well” – but every campaign also needs concrete results. “The campaign has to wait and see how the court deals with these matters,” he added.
Flagged by SC committee
In April this year, a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) appointed by the Supreme Court red-flagged these infrastructure projects in response to a petition filed by the Goa Foundation.
It recommended that the project to double-track the railway line from Tinaighat-Castlerock to Kulem be cancelled and that the Supreme Court “revoke the permission granted by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife” to this end.
The CEC also recommended that the new transmission line be cancelled and that the Goa State Electricity Board and Goa Tamnar Transmission Project Ltd. use existing transmission lines instead. It also sought environmental clearances for the project to widen National Highway 4. Alvares said, however, that the CEC filed its report in April but that the Supreme Court is yet to consider it.
“We have filed an application for the report to be considered by the Supreme Court and for all three projects to be stayed,” he said.
A few weeks ago, the Goa-Tanmar Transmission Line Project moved the Supreme Court seeking to be exempted from the court’s previous order, prohibiting the conversion of land over one hectare and with a tree canopy density of more than 10% to construct a sub-station at Sangod.
In March this year, the Karnataka high court ruled that the National Highways Authority of India won’t need environmental clearance to widen National Highway 4A, but also said work couldn’t continue unless the Centre extended its in-principle approval, which expired on December 31, 2020.
Political parties take up concerns
The campaign has also gained in relevance with the upcoming Goa legislative assembly elections in 2022, and several political parties have taken up the social and environmental issues surrounding the three projects. Mining has become a “hot topic” as well, Indian Express reported, with parties including the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party digging up mining-related issues.
Trinamool Congress member and Goa unit in-charge Mahua Moitra recently alleged that Goa’s political leaders had done little on environmental issues, including those related to the problects.
On December 1, All India Trinamool Congress national vice-president and Rajya Sabha member Luizinho Faleiro raised the concerns over these projects in the Rajya Sabha.