All you need to know about the road to Goa’s Dudhsagar that has environmentalists fuming

Published on Sep 10, 2021 03:05 PM IST

The Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park protected area is a vital wildlife habitat of Goa, being home to a number of endangered species, including tigers

Dudhsagar Falls in Goa. (Shutterstock)
Dudhsagar Falls in Goa. (Shutterstock)

On Wednesday, the Bombay high court’s Goa bench restrained the Goa Public Works Department from going forward with a road project to “upgrade” the current kutcha road leading to the world famous Dudhsagar Falls to a paved road. Here’s all you need to know about the road and why it was stopped

Where is the road being constructed?

The Goa Public Works Department undertook the upgradation of the road from the entrance of the Mollem National Park upto the Dudhsagar Falls -- a total length of approximately 26km -- to allow the public easy access to the waterfall, a great tourist attraction in Goa. The Dudhsagar Falls in Bhagwan Mahavir National Park, Mollem, features in most tourist guide books and attracts a large number of domestic and international tourists -- around 325,000 per year.

Why is Mollem National Park important?

The Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park covers an area of 240sqkm within Dharbandora and Sanguem talukas in Goa, and is a part of the contiguous protected area network in Goa. The area is one of Goa’s oldest wildlife sanctuaries, originally notified in 1967. Subsequently, in 1978, a part of the sanctuary measuring around 107sqkm was notified as the Mollem National Park.

This protected area is a vital wildlife habitat of Goa, being home to a number of endangered species, including tigers. It provides a safe and pristine habitat for a plethora of wildlife, flora and biodiversity to thrive. Reports confirm that a number of endemic and endangered species of flora and fauna are found here. The area is part of the core zone of the proposed tiger reserve for Goa.

Why did the forest department decide to ‘upgrade’ an existing road?

Two years ago, the chief wildlife warden, in a presentation before the Goa Wildlife Board, argued for the upgradation of an existing road, saying that during heavy rainfall the existing kutcha road is eroded and jeep, taxis cannot travel, inconveniencing visitors. The circuit remains closed during the monsoon and opens for tourists, jeep operators in the first week of October every year once the rains have subsided.

During the summer, the continuous movement of tourist jeeps on the road leads to dust pollution in and around 50 metres on either side of the road in the protected area. There have been demands from locals as well as tourists to improve the road, adopting new available eco-friendly materials for better upkeep and reducing pollution, the forest department said.

What did the present project entail?

In order to mitigate the effects of noise pollution in the wildlife habitat and for the convenience of tourists, the existing road may be strengthened through either paver block, proper drainage, laterite stone and strengthening of adequate provisions of small culvert/bridges in between so as to make it waterproof at places prone to waterlogging leading to skidding of vehicles, the forest department said.

In the first phase, the road is being repaired with lateritic soiling with murram duly compacted in the best manner possible in their current form and present width to make it suitable for plying of vehicles before the end of the monsoon season. In the second phase the work will make the road an all weather facility by the laying of interlocking pavers laid over a bed of cement concrete.

Why did the Goa Foundation object?

According to the foundation, no permission whatsoever can be granted for work of this nature, evidently to further human purposes, within an area notified as a national park. The taxis to the Dudhsagar Falls which run the present route from Mollem (distance: 10.1km) are required to maintain a speed of 10km per hour in order to prevent any harm or danger to wildlife. An all-weather road will not only lead to enhanced traffic but also induce drives to exceed speed limits.

“The proposal is to construct a spanking new permanent road which will completely replace the existing kutcha road and cause nuisance to wildlife in all manner of ways, fragmenting the habitat, causing anxiety, obstruction and disturbance of wildlife throughout the year,” the Goa Foundation said.

“The brand new road will become a curse in the wildlife sanctuary and ensure that whatever wildlife is left in this area will not be seen again. At the present moment, the number of vehicles is restricted to 240, which is already in excess of the carrying capacity and these are all jeeps due to the terrain. However, the equations will change once the road has been upgraded. There will be no respite for the wildlife even in the monsoon. At present, the wildlife and the forest get a much-needed breather of at least five months due to the monsoon and the turbulent nature of the Dudhsagar river,” the Goa Foundation said in an affidavit.

What did the high court say?

In case of any conflict between tourism and conservation interests of a protected area, the paradigm for decision must be that tourism exists for the protected areas and not vice versa, and that demands of tourism must be subservient to and in consonance with the conservation interests of protected area. While revenues earned from tourism can help the management of the protected area, maximisation of income must never override the main goal of tourism viz. to educate the visitor and create in them a respect for nature, said the court.

In such matters, the precautionary principle will have to be applied because the damage to the eco-sensitive protected area will be much greater if the proposed works proceed without any approval from National Board for Wildlife.

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