Protests against railway expansion in Goa gather steam
Opposition to railway infrastructure projects in Goa has intensified with protesters now planning to hold an all night vigil after work on the resumption on a stretch of railway line double tracking.
The candlelight vigil will begin at 10:30 pm on Sunday and will continue till 5am on Monday morning and has earned the support of opposition parties even as the Goa government has doubled down on its commitments with Chief Minister Pramod Sawant seeking to deny legitimacy to the protesters accusing them of being ‘from abroad’.
‘Goyant Kollso Naka’ (We don’t want coal in Goa), a collective group of activists has pledged to oppose the double tracking and earlier this week confronted officials at a site where work was ongoing in a bid to try and stop the work.
The first flashpoint was at the level crossing at Nessai in the outskirts of Margao in South Goa after authorities. With the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited, the agency that is executing the work and the South Goa Collector issuing permission to carry on with the work at a second railway crossing at Chandor another location in South Goa, leaders of the Goyant Kollso Naka have planned to lay siege on the work.
In 2010, the Ministry of Railways sanctioned the doubling of the existing Hospet-Tinaighat-Vasco railway line in the states of Karnataka and Goa. The first phase between Hospet and Tinai ghat involved easier terrain atop the largely flat Deccan plateau and has already been completed.
It’s the second phase between Tinaighat and Vasco da Gama that is currently being undertaken. The stretch involves three distinct sections -- the easternmost section that passes through wildlife sanctuaries crossing the steep slopes, raging rivers and the thick forests of the Western Ghats, a middle section involving easier terrain and the coastal stretch between Margao and Vasco that encounters densely populated areas where the project has run into land acquisition issues and opposition by residents living along the line.
The middle section between Margao and Sanvordem has been taken up first and work is already underway.
However, activists have alleged that when it comes to linear projects, unless permissions along the entire route have been obtained, the work shouldn’t start.
“The double-tracking is a linear project, which implies that if any part of it cannot be constructed, the whole project will become useless and public funds wasted. It is not only mandatory in law, but also prudent and sensible not to spend public funds on any section of the double-tracking until all permissions are obtained,” the memorandum submitted to the RNVL, states.
Activists have been opposing the line because, they say, it is being built solely to facilitate the transportation of more coal between the port and steel plants in North Karnataka, for which Goa is the closest port.
Unlike steel plants in the Jharkhand-Orissa belt for whom coal is locally available, the lack of coal mines in peninsular India means that steel plants rely on imported coal. Residents in Goa especially in the port town and those living along the railway line have long complained that the handling and transport of coal has covered their homes with coal dust and threatens their lives and livelihood.
Around 12 million tonnes of coal is imported annually, but plans are afoot to expand the capacity to nearly 55 million tonnes through a network of infrastructure projects for which the railway line will serve as a crucial link.
Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, however, refuted these suggestions.
“The infrastructure is not being created for the movement of coal alone. Stop these agitations. We have not started importing coal. Coal has been imported for so many years now. We have not even increased the import of coal. We are carrying out this development, for development of industries and promotion of export and import,” Sawant said at a function earlier this week.
The protesters have now earned the support of the major opposition parties.
“These projects will affect the wildlife, forest and the identity of Goa. The CLP unanimously resolved to extend full support to the people’s protests and agitations raising concerns about the mass destruction of the environment and identity of Goa. The CLP also decided to actively participate in the protests with people,” Goa Leader of Opposition Digambar Kamat said after a meeting of the Congress legislature party.