Feelings of distrust are growing large within corners of the state about the central government’s decision to clear parts of protected areas of Goa’s Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mollem National Park, along the Western Ghats for three projects.
Hitting back at those opposing the projects, BJP leader and former MLA Sidharth Kuncalienkar defended the government’s decision on these projects. He said, “We have sought permission to fell 70,000 trees for three projects, but we will cut only those which are required. The forest department is keeping watch on it. We will plant more trees than those which will be felled.”
Furthermore, the Chief Minister said that he suspected a foreign hand in opposition to these projects. He said that the opposition was more from abroad than from locals residing in the vicinity, adding that the government is not keen on destroying the environment.
The three projects have been challenged before the Bombay High Court at Goa as well as the Central Empowered Committee constituted by the Supreme Court.
This however comes at a time when the state crossed the 10,000 marks of covid-19 cases, with the highest single-day spike of 570 cases recorded on August 13. Many have raised apprehensions as to how the government issued clearances for the projects during the nationwide lockdown.
“Any observer including the BJP needs to be clear that destruction is not equal to the development of the state and is a fallacy unless the state now means wealthy individuals and selected interests,” said the group campaigning against the projects.
The ruling BJP however faces a series of opposition not just from local Goans, but from one of its own party MLA Alina Saldanha. She slammed Sidharth’s statements and requested him to respond to a series of questions asked to be her. She raised concerns about the destruction that these projects will have on Goa’s protected areas including the destruction of endemic flora and fauna species.
“Does Sidharth care about the negative impact doubling of SWR (South Western Railways) tracks through South Goa will have on the houses along the tracks, once the tracks are doubled, landing the tracks in many cases almost on the doorsteps of these houses?” she questioned.
Environmental activists and many citizens have said that these projects, especially the railway line, is being built solely to facilitate the transport of imported coal from MPT to many steel plants located up North of Karnataka, for whom Vasco’s MPT is the closest port
The biggest among the three – the railway line – will result in the diversion of 113.857 hectares of forest land and cutting of around 18,541 trees. The other two – four-laning of the existing highway along Panaji-Belgavi – will cost 31.015 hectares of forest land and 12,097 trees, followed by a 400KV power line – 3.5km of which passes through protected forests – is also included in this plan.