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In Goa, Prakash Javadekar dodges queries on Mollem, Mhadei projects

Hindustan Times, Panaji | ByGerard de Souza
Oct 04, 2020 04:17 PM IST

Prakash Javadekar was in Goa as part of the BJP’s strategy to send out ministers across the country to speak of the benefits of the recently passed contentious farm bills.

Union Minister Prakash Javadekar on Sunday refused to entertain queries concerning three projects in Goa that he as chairman of the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change’s standing committee had approved back in April and instead said that he would ‘study the matter’ if those affected by it submit a memorandum to him.

Javadekar was in Goa as part of the BJP’s strategy to send out ministers across the country to speak of the benefits of the recently passed contentious farm bills.

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During his press conference in the state capital reporters asked questions on the diversion of forest land for the expansion of a railway, highway and a new power line which he had cleared in a meeting held via video conference during the lockdown in April this year.

But he feigned ignorance on the topics as well as his ministry’s advice to the Karnataka government that it would not need an environment clearance for the Mhadei river diversion project that Karnataka is constructing to Goa’s detriment.

“If I receive the memorandum, I will definitely study it,” Javadekar said when asked to respond to concerns raised by locals over the diversion of forest land for the projects.

The standing committee of the ministry granted its approval to the diversion of forest land from notified wildlife sanctuaries in Mollem along Goa’s eastern frontier with Karnataka for three projects -- the doubling of an existing railway line between Hubli in Karnataka and Vasco da Gama in Goa, the expansion of the national highway 4A between Belgaum in North Karnataka and Goa and a power line.

The railway line, by far the biggest of the three will come at a cost of diversion of 113.857 ha. of forest land from the protected area and felling of 18,541 trees. The second project -- the four laning of the existing two lane highway that was constructed by the Portuguese colonial government between Panaji in Goa and Belgavi in Karnataka will cost 31.015 ha of forest land and 12,097 trees proposed to be done partly by widening the existing highway, but largely by creating completely new roads on viaduct structures parallel to the existing highway, wherever it cannot be widened due to the difficult nature of the terrain. Thirdly, a 400KV power line -- 3.5 km of which passes through protected forest to augment power supply between Goa and Karnataka to provide additional feed to Goa is also proposed.

These clearances have now been challenged before the High Court as well as the Central Empowered Committee constituted by the Supreme Court on grounds that they have been cleared in haste and threaten the rich biodiversity of the region.

Javadekar was also questioned over his ministry’s advice to the Karnataka government ahead of the by-polls in Karnataka last year that their projects would not need an environmental clearance.

“The CM will respond to you on this. The matter is in court and nothing at all is happening,” Javadekar said before walking away.

The MoEF, in a letter to the Karnataka government noted that the scheme “doesn’t envisage creating new command area or providing water to suffering existing command areas for irrigation. Also the project doesn’t involve hydroelectric power generation [and] is purely a drinking water supply scheme and [hence] does not attract the provisions of the EIA notification 2006 and its subsequent amendments.

The Congress was quick to accuse the BJP minister of betraying one state in favour of another.

“Avoiding questions betrayer of Mother Mhadei, makes it clear that @BJP4India in connivance with @BJP4Goa and @goacm sold our Lifeline to Karnataka for Political Gains. The defective @DrPramodPSawant once again stands exposed,” State Congress president Girish Chodankar said.

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