Saturday 25 Jun 2022

Why the hurry when part of double-track work is halted?

THE GOAN NETWORK | MAY 17, 2022, 11:10 PM IST

PWD and Environment Minister Nilesh Cabral while emerging out of a meeting of the State government and officials of South Western Railways in Panaji stated that the double-tracking work on the sector between Kulem and Vasco will continue and maintained that the recent Supreme Court order of setting aside clearance by the National Board for Wildlife was specific to the Kulem-Castlerock sector.

The urgency with which the government is flagging off works in the remaining portions despite the apex court raising serious concerns about the project's impact on the environment and wildlife once again highlights the insensitivity of the powers that be. Let’s not forget the fact that while the Supreme Court was examining the clearances given to the Kulem-Castlerock route, there have been critical observations on the need to balance economic development and environmental protection. The court held that in case of doubt, protection of the environment would have precedence over economic interest and that it is not always necessary that there should be direct evidence of harm to the environment.

The court has stated that there is no substantial basis for the requirement of track-doubling by impacting habitat and wildlife and has agreed with the CEC's proposed option of utilizing Krishnapatnam port as a viable alternative for the transportation of coal. The court also found no supporting data for the projections that were given by Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) relating to the traffic between Karnataka and Goa project for the period 2022-2023 and 2030-2031 and there is no explanation regarding the projected traffic for the next 4-5 years which is required for the completion of the construction of the project.

The sum and substance of the ruling was clearly against the project and the court was convinced that a second track will not help Goa’s cause. Against this backdrop, one would expect the State government to go into introspection and reassess the impact of the project and the projected benefits.

The decision that work will continue in areas beyond the scope of the court order is a sign of overconfidence coupled with a fierce insistence that overrides not only the fears expressed by the bench but also those expressed by citizens who have been fighting the project tooth and nail. It would have been sensible for the Railways to first get clearance for the stretch in question and then proceed with works in other areas since there is a huge question mark over forest clearance now.

With the decision to proceed with works, the Railways would also be pushing their way through the contentious Majorda-Cansaulim segment where private properties and traditional residential houses are getting affected, much against the protests of locals and activists. This again is unfair given the background that the route has not been green-flagged yet, and the damage inflicted could be irreversible should there be any change in plans at a later stage. The government must rethink this.

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