Chief Minister Dr. Pramod Sawant assured the Goans that the state Government will not destroy the Mollem but at the same time, he cannot stop the ongoing infrastructure development projects. CM Sawant was addressing the group of Children come to meet him.
CM Pramod Sawant met the group of children a day after children’s day at Sakhal who came with a plea to stop coal transportation through Goa and to scrap the double-tracking of the South Western Railway route on Sunday.
He stated that it wasn’t possible to stop Centre-funded infrastructure projects abruptly but he would make sure that the coal handling capacity at the Mormugao Port would be reduced to half of its present level, within a year.
“As long as I am the chief minister of the state, I will not allow Mollem to get destroyed, I am as concerned about Mollem as you all are, if not more.”, said CM as he vowed to not allow the destruction of the Mollem forest to the children.
The public opinion of people of the state has been made widely across Goa against all three center funded infrastructure projects, I.e, the railway double-tracking project upto Vasco, four laning of the Panaji-Belgavi national highway, and the laying of the power transmission lines- all of which cut across the Mollem forest which is a biodiversity hotspot, raising concerns from the people.
One boy raised concerns over the coal in Goa and the double-tracking which will facilitate coal transport as the dust generated would damage people’s lungs. “I have come to you to request you for a coal-free Goa”, another child said, with one more adding, “Double tracking is being done for coal, it needs to be stopped”.
CM Sawant went on to explain why the coal transportation and the double tracking shouldn’t be mixed and the track doubling project wasn’t to facilitate only coal transportation. “If we totally stop coal handling, will there be opposition to double-tracking?”
A young girl stated that one track was sufficient for the state as compared to Goa’s small population to which Sawant replied “I have raised the concern of the people with railways minister Piyush Goyal. If you tell me to stop the project, can it be done? He (Goyal) said we’ll restudy the project. Now that I raised the people’s concerns about the project before him, Goyal said he also felt concerned about the project. He said they will review the project and decide accordingly. “ Only 70km remains to be undertaken out of the 300 km route of the double tracking project.
CM mentioned to a girl who persisted in her queries that he understands her plea as he too has a daughter of her age and that he will reduce coal in Goa and in the future will entirely stop coal handling. He mentioned the 2,000 people working in the coal sector for their livelihood, how it would be at stake if it was shut overnight as this industry has been functioning in Goa for the past 40 years.
The Union Shipping Minister is set to visit Goa within a month as CM says they’re trying to continually find alternatives, such as tourism projects. “I need some time and we will totally close down coal handling in the future,” he told the children.
About the double tracking, CM said that it had begun before his tenure, in the last 10 years to which a child replied that he was the chief minister and has the power to stop it now. “I can’t say top any central projects just like that. Crores of rupees are spent… for anything (different) we have to study the issue and see the viability. Maybe a committee would be set up soon to study the issue” replied Sawant.
He also made it clear that only one project is coming up at Mollem, “and that’s the Tanmar transmission line”. “I am also concerned about Mollem, Goa has 70% tree cover”, said CM when he spoke of the news of 70,000 trees being cut in Mollem. He said that the state needs power for industry and to generate employment to which he also added that only 29 people in the state have opted for solar power.
In return, he was quizzed about why government buildings aren’t solar-powered to which he stated that the lack of finance is an issue and the government has expedited the process. It is being done in the PPP (Public-private partnership) mode.
Goans continue to protest against these new projects and it has now become national news as well. People from all over are coming in support of scrapping these plans to help save the biodiversity of Mollem.