HC stays road project leading to Goa waterfall until wildlife board’s nod | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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HC stays road project leading to Goa waterfall until wildlife board’s nod

ByGerard de Souza, Hindustan Times, Panaji
Sep 09, 2021 07:19 AM IST

The court’s observation came while hearing a plea filed by an environmental NGO, the Goa Foundation, challenging the decision of the Goa Public Works Department (PWD) to pursue the construction of a paved road leading up to the falls.

Tourism exists for (benefit of) protected areas and not vice-versa, and demands for having one must be subservient to conservation interests, the Bombay High Court in Goa observed on Wednesday, as it stayed the construction of an ‘all weather’ road leading to the world-famous Dudhsagar Falls which is currently only connected via a kutcha road.

The present route to Dudhsagar is closed between June and October as it becomes non-motorable during the monsoons. (Shutterstock)
The present route to Dudhsagar is closed between June and October as it becomes non-motorable during the monsoons. (Shutterstock)

The court’s observation came while hearing a plea filed by an environmental NGO, the Goa Foundation, challenging the decision of the Goa Public Works Department (PWD) to pursue the construction of a paved road leading up to the falls.

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The bench, comprising justices M S Sonak and M S Jawalkar, said that besides regular annual repairs, all other works proposed by the PWD “ought not to proceed until the final disposal of this petition or until the respondents obtain necessary approval from NBWL (National Board for Wildlife), whichever is earlier.”

“From the material placed on record, at least prima facie, the CWW (Chief Wildlife Warden) has not considered whether such a project is necessary for the purpose of PA (protected area). Rather, the material on record, prima facie, suggests that the project is mostly to cater to almost 4.5 lakhs tourists that visit the Dudhsagar Waterfalls by using the existing kutcha road,” the order read.

The Goa government had embarked on the project to upgrade the existing kutcha road into an all-weather road usable throughout the year, in the second week of August. The project involves replacing the kutcha road surface with lateritic soiling with murram duly compacted and laying interlocking pavers over a 15 cms bed of cement and concrete. The project also involves providing cross drains, ramps, parking bay, retaining walls, culverts, crash barriers and random rubble masonry.

Besides these, the project involves providing a toilet block and guard room among others at a cost of 31 crore or thereabouts, covering a stretch of approximately 12 kms.

“This can hardly be regarded as routine repair or maintenance works on the existing kutcha road. For an integrated project of this nature, at least prima facie, approval from NBWL is necessary,” the high court observed.

“In such matters, the precautionary principle will have to be applied because the damage to the eco-sensitive PA (protected area) will be much greater if the proposed works proceed without any approval from NBWL. Since there is no bar to undertaking routine repair and maintenance works to the kutcha road as are undertaken every year, even the balance of convenience is not in favour of the respondents,” the bench noted.

In its affidavit, the state forest department claimed that since the road was being repaired and is not a fresh project, it does not have to go through the normal procedures laid down by the Supreme Court and to have the project approved by the State Board for Wildlife and thereafter, by the standing committee of NBWL.

The present route to Dudhsagar is closed between June and October as it becomes non-motorable during the monsoons which, the Goa Foundation argued, offers “the wildlife and forest a much needed breather of at least five months due to the monsoon and the turbulent nature of the Dudhsagar River.”

That, the petitioner added, will be lost if the all-weather road is allowed to be completed.

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