Goa: Midnight protest against railway expansion gets huge support
The conversion of a single-track route into a double line is being opposed, which protesters allege will cause irreparable damage to the fragile Western Ghats ecosystem
Hundreds of protesters gathered at Chandor in south Goa and camped along the railway track with candles, beating drums and raising slogans against the state government’s move to push through railway expansion through a stretch located between Margao and Sanvordem.
The conversion of a single-track route into a double line is being opposed, which protesters allege will cause irreparable damage to the fragile Western Ghats ecosystem.
The expansion work is aimed at transportation of coal from the Mormugao port to steel plants located in north Karnataka via a protected forest in the Western Ghats.
The vigil was attended by prominent members of the leading opposition parties.
“Work is in progress, even though all the permissions are yet to be granted. The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s (MoEFCC) guidelines stipulate that for linear projects, the construction work should not begin until all the permissions have been granted,” said Abhijit Prabhudesai, who is leading the agitation against the expansion under the banner of Goyant Kollso Naka, which loosely translates to we don’t want coal in Goa.
The South Western Railway Line that runs between Londa in north Karnataka and Vasco da Gama in Goa was built in the late 19th century by the colonial Britishers to connect the Mormugao port with the hinterland via the Western Ghats.
The railway track has become saturated ever since the Mormugao port emerged as a focal point for the import of coal.
In 2010, the Union Ministry of Railways had sanctioned the doubling of the existing Hospet-Tinaighat-Vasco railway line in Karnataka and Goa.
The construction work in the first phase between Hospet and Tinai ghat, which involved easier terrain atop the largely flat Deccan plateau, has been completed.
The second phase between Tinaighat and Vasco da Gama involves crossing steep slopes, raging rivers and thick forests of the Western Ghats and densely populated parts of coastal Goa are being contested.
Earlier this year, the standing committee of the MoEFCC recommended the grant of clearance for diversion of forest land to construct the railway line, along with permission for two other projects such as expansion of the existing state highway and a power transmission line.
All three projects are being opposed on environmental grounds.
The clearances have been challenged before the Bombay high court (HC) at Goa and the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), which was set up by the Supreme Court (SC) to adjudicate environmental matters.
“The Congress and other opposition parties have spoken in one voice against the doubling of the railway track, which is being carried out for facilitating transportation of coal through Goa,” said Digambar Kamat, leader of Opposition in Goa legislative assembly, after taking part in the vigil.
The protest was organised to coincide with the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited’s (RVNL) bid to carry out the laying of a track at Chandor village, which lies along the stretch of track between Margao and Sanvordem.
The stretch involves three distinct sections. The easternmost part that passes through wildlife sanctuaries crossing steep slopes, raging rivers and thick forests of the Western Ghats, a middle section involving easier terrain and the coastal stretch between Margao and Vasco, which is densely populated. The project is also beset with land acquisition troubles and stiff opposition by local residents living along the track.
However, the RVNL authorities have refused to stop the construction work on grounds that unless a government authority or a court of law directed them to do so.
Though the agitation was the biggest amid the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak, Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant is not willing to accede to the protesters’ demands.
Initially, he claimed that the project was not aimed at transportation of coal and later changed his tack to allege that expatriate Goans was behind “these agitations”.
“The infrastructure is not being created for the transportation of coal alone. Stop these agitations. We have not started importing coal. Coal has been imported for many years. We have not even increased the import of coal. We are carrying out the construction work in a bid to develop industries and give a boost to exports and imports,” Sawant had said at a function last week.