Goa infra projects: Members of wildlife board allege incorrect minutes
Opposition to the three linear infrastructure projects passing through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park received a shot in the arm after independent and non-official members of the Goa State Wildlife Board claimed that the minutes of the Board meeting were incorrectly recorded. They said that the projects of the board were not “unanimously” passed and that the minutes have not reflected the objections they had raised.
In a letter addressed to the Central Empowered Committee which is currently examining a petition against the clearances granted to the projects, the members who include Rajendra Kerkar, Arnold Noronha, Parag Ragnekar, Amrut Singh among others, wrote, “We were not given any opportunity to contribute to the decision making in a reasoned way and most of the concerns raised by us about the projects during the meeting were also ignored. In fact, few of us had written to the Member Secretary of the Board requesting him to record our objections in the minutes of the Board’s meeting held on 2nd December 2019. However no such inclusions corrections were made by him while escalating the minutes of the Board along with the wildlife clearance recommendation before the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (SC-NBWL). Ultimately even the SC-NBWL recommended all three projects on 4th April 2020.”
During that meeting the Board granted approval to the three projects viz. the doubling of railway track in Castle Rock- Kulem-Kalay-Margao section of South Western Railway involving diversion of 120.875ha, four laning of existing NH-4A in Goa involving diversion of 31.015ha (Wildlife Sanctuary 6.75ha & National Park 24.265ha) and laying of LILO Narendra 400KV transmission line involving 11.546ha within the protected areas of Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park.
The cumulative forest land that is to be diverted for the three projects inside the protected area is 163.43ha while the cumulative forest land required for such projects outside the protected area is believed to be another 200ha of forest land.
The members also claimed that the agenda of the meeting was only handed over at the beginning of the meeting, thus giving them no time or opportunity to either understand the veracity of projects on wildlife or to form any reasoned opinion on their merits/demerits.
“During the meeting there was no scope for meaningful debate or discussion, inadequate deliberation on the mitigation measures, no opportunity provided to each member to be heard and the haste adopted to simply get over the Agenda items and put rubber stamp recommendation on the wildlife clearance proposals concerning the three linear infrastructure projects. Even our signature on the attendance sheet of the meeting were considered and portrayed as deemed approval for the projects,” the members stated.
“The Member Secretary who is also the Chief Wildlife of the State of Goa was overly enthusiastic about getting the projects approved as the Central government has already approved them. Surprisingly, he took it upon himself to present the project proposals to the members instead of the project proponents,” the letter stated.
The exhaustive letter has also questioned the Board’s refusal to examine the projects comprehensively and cumulatively.
“The three proposed linear projects will further fragment the already fragmented area, most of which is pristine and virgin in nature, However. Wildlife clearance was sought for every individual project to dilute the figurative requirement of diversion forest within the same protected area network. Thus, the impact of these projects, especially the cumulative impact on biodiversity, does not find mention,” the members said, adding that the State Board for Wildlife needs to demand an assessment of the cumulative impact of these linear developments impacting the entire state.
“There lacks a strategy with regard to these projects as random mono-culture afforestation will not be able to compensate the loss of forestry species of the Western Ghats,” the members said.
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