The Youth of Mollem have Spoken

By Ashwin Tombat
14 September 2020 16:25 IST


On Friday, the Mollem Village Panchayat deferred its decision to grant permission to two ‘national’ projects – conversion of the existing National Highway 4-A (connecting Belgaum to Panaji and Vasco) into a four-lane highway and erection of a new high-tension power transmission line to Goa. This was after villagers demanded that a village Gram Sabha be summoned to discuss them.

A large group of youth assembled outside the panchayat office while the monthly meeting of the Panchayat was in progress, demanding that the projects should first be put before the village Gram Sabha. Mollem Sarpanch Tanavi G Kerkar came out of the meeting and announced that the monthly meeting had decided to convene a Gram Sabha on Sunday 4 October to discuss the two projects.

“I wish to clarify that I have not given NOC to anyone regarding these projects,” the Sarpanch said. He said that a decision would be taken only after considering the locals’ views: “We’ll go by the views of the people at the Gram Sabha,” he told the media.

This incident comprehensively demolishes the statement of Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, that opposition to these projects was more from abroad than from locals residing in the vicinity. “The opposition is coming from Africa, England and Russia. Those who have not seen Goa and Mollem are now commenting about it from foreign countries. On the other hand, those who stay in Mollem say that if the road is widened it will be beneficial to them,” Mr Sawant had claimed.

Not so, Mr Sawant. Opposition to the projects is very local. There may be some support from Goans settled overseas, but basically it is young people from all over the state – including in Mollem and Collem, as well as the other villages through which the proposed double railway track passes – who are raising their voices against these projects.

There are three large infrastructure projects proposed in Goa’s wildlife sanctuaries — double tracking of the SW Railway line linking Vasco to Londa, conversion of the existing two-lane NH 4-A into a four-lane highway and erection of a new high-tension power transmission line to Goa. While the latter two are in the Mollem Panchayat area, the railway double tracking project is under the Collem Village Panchayat jurisdiction.

A total of 3.20 lakh sq metres of forest land has been earmarked for the four-laning of the existing 12-km stretch of NH4-A from Mollem to Anmod village on the Goa-Karnataka border. Widening the highway will mean that up to 33,806 trees may have to be chopped, apart from significant hill-cutting.

The new 400 KV power transmission line between Dharwad in Karnataka to Goa is to meet Goa’s peak electricity demand of 1,192MW by 2022. Of this, 10km from Sangod in Goa to the Karnataka border will require 1.15 lakh sq metres of pristine forest. It will result in the felling of another 15,777 trees.

Doubling of the railway track between Hospet in Karnataka and Vasco is to facilitate transport of imported coal from the Mormugao port to steel plants in northern Karnataka. Of this, 25km will cut through deep forests between Collem and Castle Rock. The Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary will lose up to 21,878 trees.

Do these projects have benefits? Of course they do. Project proponents claim that four-laning of National Highway 4-A and doubling of the railway track will greatly improve connectivity between Goa and southern states, both for people and goods. It will help to grow both tourism and industry in Goa. The power transmission line will improve electricity supply.

But these projects also have costs, which may seem invisible but are very real. They will slice the sanctuary into three distinct pieces. Besides, who can put a price on pristine, natural forests (much of the rest of India has planted teak forests), or on our only sources of drinking water, leave alone the vibrant wildlife including tigers…?

The protestors say the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for the highway and railway projects are shoddy, and were rushed through during the period of the Covid-19 lockdown. There is no EIA for the transmission line. Experts say that all three projects – along with the associated projects in the contiguous forest areas of Karnataka – need to have a combined EIA to correctly assess the overall impact on the contiguous forest area in both states.  That has not been done.

Maybe it was not clear to the CM earlier. Now that the youth of Mollem have come out in numbers large enough for the Village Sarpanch to hold a Gram Sabha to discuss the issue, Mr Sawant needs to take a serious look at the objections raised by Goa’s youth opposing the projects in our wildlife sanctuaries.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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Previous Comments

Goans should bring AAP Environment Model To Goa.

The Best Environment Model of AAP.

- Jack De Goan, Goa | 15 th September 2020 14:56


Ashwin, very nice write up. Govt. just cannot bulldoze projects in Goa. All factors must weigh in and discussed. Besides hidden intentions if any must be exposed too.

- P. Kamat, mapusa | 14 th September 2020 17:50


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