Victory: The Supreme Court quashed the railway nod for Mollem double tracking. Goans are jubilant after more than a year of protests sees daylight.

The Supreme Court has stalled the double-tracking of South Western Railway. With one stroke it has given back Goa’s green lungs to Goans. The most contentious issues in recent times have been the taking over of the protected Mollem National Park to facilitate three three linear projects — the double- tracking of the South Western Railway, expansion of the Panaji-Belgaum national highway and the Tamnar power transmission project. All had hit a major roadblock with Goans protesting in all the ways they could. But it has all been worth it much to the relief of most Goans. The Supreme Court bench presided over by Justice L Nageswara Rao accepted the principal recommendation of its Central Empowerment Committee to revoke the permission given by the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) for double- tracking from Castlerock in Karnataka to Kulem-Goa.

By Joshua George

THE landscape on which the railway line was proposed to cut across has proved to be an important tiger corridor connecting the three states of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra. This was pointed out by the CEC, “that the report prepared by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) regarding the viability of such a railway line was only for Karnataka.” “No report has been prepared for the Goa part. The Standing Committee of NBWL ought to have sought for a report from NTCA on the Goa part of the project before granting approval for the doubling of the railway line between Castlerock to Kulem.”

THERE have been several instances of killing of tigers by the already existing railway line that passes through the forest, says Range Forest Officer Paresh Porob. He finds merit in the recommendations made by the CEC, which are in line with the feelings of the people of Goa. These recommendations merely ask for taking into account the actual loss of the wildlife habitat by the construction activity for the doubling of the railway line. This would involve heavy machinery to be moved and crusher units to be established for dumping construction material.
What also has to be noted is the fact that the Mollem forests constitute the catchment areas of the Khandepar river, which is the main source of the Opa water treatment plant. It’s ironic that on one hand Goa is fighting Karnataka over insensitive and illegal diversion of Mhadei river waters (where Goa’s Mandovi river waters come from), yet on the other hand the powers that be have no hesitation in destroying the catchment areas of the Khandepar river! The Mollem forests also serve to protect rivers originating in the Western Ghats. There are also fears that the Dudhsagar flowing through the Mollem National Park and the several tributaries that merge with it are in danger. The Dudhsagar along with its tributaries ensure sustainable water supply. Any anthropogenic activity could be seriously detrimental to the natural flow of water from these outlets.

IN its 56th meeting the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife had granted permission for the railway double-tracking through the eco-sensitive Western Ghats. This involved 120 ha of land in Goa out of which 113 ha came under the protected area and 7 ha in the non-protected area. The 10.45 ha of land affected is part of the Dandeli Wild Life Sanctuary in Karnataka.
Experts like Richard D’Souza, a former chief conservator of forests, says that “the main objective in declaring Mollem a national park in 1968 was to protect and preserve the biodiversity of the forests so that the water flow in the area is protected.” When the proposal for the contentious clearing of trees for double-tracking was first introduced by the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) in November 2013, the then Forest Minister Alina Saldanha along with the then chief minister Manohar Parrikar vehemently rejected the proposal.
In a letter addressed to Richard D’Souza (IFS) in 2013 by the Chief Project Manager of the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) requesting forest approval for the double tracking, D’Souza noted the following. “The proposed second railway line passes through the prime forest of Bhagwan Mahavir National Park which has highly indigenous and endangered species which will be completely disturbed if doubling of the railway line is done”. Richard had also stated that “the present railway line was adequate enough up to the Kulem Railway Station as there was not much traffic on that route and whatever traffic that does exist could be managed by the single railway line going through the Bhagwan Mahavir National park. “In case the RNVL wants to double the railway line they can do so on the Karnataka side and if the government of Goa does agree then doubling could be carried out from Kulem to Vasco subject to clearance from other authorities.”

THE Opposition has welcomed the Supreme Court’s verdict. Opposition leaders also demanded that the state government withdrew the cases files against activists that fought against the destruction of the Mollem National Park. The Aam Aadmi Party said that the SC order exposes the BJP’s iniquitous plan to destroy Goa’s rich biodiversity.
The Congress and the Goa Forward party have also welcomed the decision and said that Goa has won the fight against environmental destruction and coal transportation. It’s been less than a week since the Leader of Opposition Michael Lobo was accused of illegal land filling in Parra. On being contacted Michael Lobo highlighted the hypocrisy of the ruling party which is hell bent on destroying the protected ecosystems of Goa. He also complemented the Goa Foundation and people of Goa for coming together with the single purpose of protecting Goa’s green state status.

THIS is a huge victory for the citizens and youth across Goa. The different campaigns that came together like Amche Mollem, Goencho Ekvott, Goa Foundation, Goencho Awaaz, etc, also Fr Bolmax Pereira who was at the forefront of these campaigns, says that faith in the judiciary has been re-affirmed. “The strong stand taken by the youth for a future full of forests stands justified.”
Congress candidate Captain Viriato Fernandes, at the helm of the Goencho Ekvott campaign, praises campaigners and citizens who fought tirelessly for the cause of saving Mollem from destruction. In his press conference on Tuesday, May 10, he highlighted the efforts of Goencho Ekvoot right from beginning of the pandemic when everyone was forced to stay indoors. The people who go unmentioned but are within the community are now the champions of this victory and they are led by Abhijeet Prabudessai, Co-convenor of the Goyant Kollso Naka campaign, Orville Dorado of Goencho Ekvott and the now no more environmental activist Julio Cedric Aguiar.

WHILE the Opposition is happy, the Supreme Court order is a major blow to the ruling BJP party. The Goa government’s financial benefits for facilitating the transport of coal for industrialist Gautam Adani from Goa to Bellary and Hospet have now come unstuck. While the CEC have given the RVNL the option of re-applying the matter is now at a low point having been dealt a significant blow. A senior forest official of the Forest department says it would be difficult for the railways to get the NBWL clearance again. Ruling party stalwarts like Minister for Panchayats Mauvin Godinho is now downplaying the Supreme Court’s order by saying “some agencies or some people become hyper about certain things.” According to him “This verdict is being celebrated in a big way as if the entire project is scrapped and it is only a particular stretch in the Ghat section near Dudhsagar.” Also, “The SC has said the Railways can reapply after going back to the NBWL, which means the railways will be considered again for getting permission.”

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