#IfTreesCouldTalk: Everything That Is Happening With The Infrastructure Projects In Goa

Sakshi Kore , 09 Nov 2020

#IfTreesCouldTalk is a blog series that aims to highlight one aspect of environmental impact, wildlife conservation and other issues that need to be spoken about from the natural world and our impact on it. The idea was simple. We just believe that if Mother Nature had a voice, there would be a lot she would have to say about the state of the world today and what we can do to help. This is just our effort to give her a voice. 

There is practically no sight of the lockdown; vacations are on a prominent rise and the popular tourist destination of India—Goa, is seeing an influx of visitors at present. But, if you’re keeping up with one of the most loved states in the country, you’ll know that there’s something that has been happening here since lockdown began. Goa, as we have known for so many years is changing. And no, not for the better. If you don’t already know, the Central Government of India has given clearances for 3 infrastructural projects to be carried out in Goa, that will run through the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park. You can read more about what these projects are, why they’re so problematic in nature and just how unlawfully they commenced, here. And the four very important questions they pose that we must all ask the people in power:

  1. Why is there an elevation in the usage of coal as opposed to reducing it for a more sustainable future?
  2. What is the dire need to destroy the environment and the rich biodiversity of the state to an unfathomable level just to transport coal from one place to another?
  3. Projects this size require careful consideration of the environment. So what was it that drove the authorities to grant approvals to projects that have the ability to cause irreparable damage? Over video calls during the time when the nation was entering a lockdown?
  4. Why have these projects been given a go-ahead when there are no direct or indirect benefits to Goans, but only irreversible damages?

There has been a state-wide outrage over these projects ever since the lockdown began, through this entire pandemic. And the issue is slowly drawing the attention it deserves. Read more about it below.

The current status of these projects and what citizens are doing to oppose it:

The state government has tried to disregard and downplay the cries of the citizens. But it’s affecting them in negligible amounts as they continue to fight harder every day. The blatant disregard of the citizens’ concerns by its government just goes to show the exact opposite spectrum of a democratic state and nation. Dissent is essential in a democracy. A democratic government is of the people, for the people and by the people. So, why is it that the Goans today are going unheard, when in fact the screams for help are almost deafening? It’s this very reason why the people today—no matter the cost—are fighting so hard for their home.

The youth from Goa sent letters to their respective MLAs to take up this issue and answer the many unanswered questions regarding these projects. A group of about 400 students from different colleges in Goa wrote a formal letter to the CeC requesting and quite practically begging the government to stop from going any further with these 3 linear projects. Projects that will cause habitat fragmentation, which in turn causes wildlife to get killed, an unimaginable increase in pollution because of the thousands of trees being felled and thereby the temperature and the loss of thousands of livelihoods that depend on these lands. This will subsequently affect the tourism industry, as well, that has built its reputation on the backs of Goa’s beautiful flora and fauna. Scientists, environmentalists, conservationists and more wrote to Prakash Javadekar citing their concerns and these very impacts of these projects.

Netizens indulged in a Twitter Storm on the 9th of October expressing their problems over these non-environmental-friendly projects. #SaveMollem #MyMollem #BeautifulMollem were a few trending hashtags used to create the stir and get political figures to respond.

On the 28th of October, a few villagers came together in an attempt to protest and stop the railway construction at Nessai. However, their efforts went in vain as the work continued.

November 1st saw around 5000 Goans come to the railway tracks in Chandor village to protest against the doubling of the railway lines that runs through the Western Ghats. Despite the pandemic, the citizens were ready to risk their lives in order to save the forests and its biodiversity. The protest saw the citizens dance and sing to celebrate the forests in all their glory. However, the peaceful protest was met with heat from the law the next day. FIRs were filed against the people gathered at the protest along with a few prominent umbrella organisations working against these projects, namely Goyant Kollso Naka. 

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🕯 *UTH, GOENKARA CITIZENS KEEP NIGHT VIGIL WHILE THE GOVT SLEEPS* 🕯 _Goans keep awake all night, successfully stop double tracking at Guirdolim-Chandor road crossing 🛤 Beloved Goans, last night, our people made history! Over *5,000 people, many of them women and the youth*, gathered for a candle vigil at the South Western railway line, near the road crossing at Chandor, from 10:30 PM, until 4AM. The South Western Railway (SWR) was scheduled to proceed with the track doubling near the same crossing, during the late night hours of 2nd November. Braving the threat of Covid and late night dew, *people from various citizen and environmental groups, political parties and demographics showed up, determined to occupy the tracks until dawn. 💔 This risky move is what we have to resort to, as the government and Railway have refused to respond to requests to scrap the project from several people's led movements over the months. 🤬 This railway double tracking, and other linked projects of disastrous ecological and social impact, are all *part of a steady plan to turn Goa into a coal hub. 🔥 The crowd kept growing from 10:30 onwards, and echoes of steely resolve and impassioned discontent filled the air. Chants of "Goans don't want coal!", "Kick out Adani, Jindal Sterlite" and "Wake up Goans!"* were regularly heard in Konkani, Hindi and English. People settled down along either side of the railway tracks, which was ablaze with as many candles as there were protestors. 📝At some point after midnight, the Deputy Collector, Jyoti Kumari, arrived to request the protestors to let the trains pass. The people asked for an order from the Collector in writing, which revoked the order permitting road closures for the 8th-9th night at Davorlim. The people of Goa now await this order. Failure to produce this *will see our protest move to and only expand in Davorlim. 💪 ❌ Opposition to the South Western Railway has been going on for years, since as early as 2016. *Goans have had enough! ⏰ Send this very important update to *wake your fellow Goans up!* Just because our government is sleeping over our future, doesn't mean we should too! #SaveMollem#savegoa

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Although the protest did not get the kind of response that it should have—from the authorities—it did, however, get the attention of journalists and influencers from around the country. Prominent personalities started talking about it and urged the citizens of India to save the state.

The inhumane response of the government towards the citizens resulted in the #ArrestMeToo movement on Twitter. The outrage of the netizens was practically impossible to ignore. The underlying basis of the tweets was that if the efforts of saving forests are considered a crime, then we’re ready to plead guilty.

Journalist Faye D’souza who is using her reach to get the people of India to help save Goa hosted a panel discussion about this very issue with Dr Nandini Velho—Wildlife Researcher, Abhijeet Prabhudesai—co-convener, Goyant Kollso Naka, Claude Alvares—Director, Goa Foundation and Sherry Fernandes—journalism student. The 5 talked in-depth about the projects from the very beginning, the Chandor protest and the events that followed suit.

Shortly after, Faye also interviewed Nilesh Cabral, Goa’s Environment and Power Minister to get answers to some of these unheard and unanswered questions. You can watch the conversation below.

As of today, the outrage and the unending cries of the citizens seem to have seen a tiny ray of light at the end of a very dark tunnel. According to sources, the South Western Railway (SWR) has postponed the work at the Darvelim crossing until further notice, which was initially supposed to start today, 9th November 2020. Hence, the third protest that was scheduled for the 8th of November was cancelled.

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While postponement may be a good sign, the fight is still not over. In the coming weeks or so, netizens have yet another Twitter storm planned. So if you’re wondering how you can help from the comfort of your home, make use of social media. Its power is unmatched.

As we come to the end of it, you must also know that these aren’t the only projects that need your attention. These are only 3—slated to take place in one state—out of almost 30 such projects all over India. A famous example being the Etalin Hydropower Project in Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh for which a whopping 2,70,000 trees were planned on being felled. Sent shockwaves down your spine, yet? Read more about it here.

We also discuss and indulge in many such meaningful conversations at Malini’s Girl Tribe. From mental health to environment—the topics are limitless. Join the Tribe here and be a part of this wonderful, growing community of women!

Follow @missmalinilifestyle for more such updates and to know how to get involved.

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