Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s reaction to the Supreme Court order on track-doubling that the State government respects the verdict in the matter and that instructions will be duly complied with is most welcome, even though there are no choices here. It brings in a tinge of positivity in an otherwise picture of contrast where there is a frenzied reaction from Greens, activists and NGOs on one side and a sullen silence from those in the government on the other.
The question that comes to the fore now is whether the government will step in and ensure that works on the entire route are stopped forthwith till the matter is resolved. Because a critical portion of the double-track route between Majorda-Vasco is still being disputed and any damage inflicted by bulldozing through ancestral houses and private properties along this stretch would be unfortunate under the current circumstances. It is to be seen if the State government reconciles with those affected and makes a representation to skip this portion of the route leveraging its argument on the manageable rail traffic under the existing setup.
The Supreme Court highlighted a series of lapses and ambiguities in clearances, misleading submissions and misrepresentation of the impact on virgin forest land and even pointed to the fact that statutory advice from the National Tiger Conservation Authority under the provisions of the Wildlife Act 1972 was not taken. The role of the State government and authorities in remaining mute spectators while its treasure trove of forests and a highly eco-sensitive zone was being ruthlessly cut into, has been exposed. The bigger question now is whether this order would be an eye-opener for authorities or whether they would continue to be facilitators and partners yet again in a new plot.
While the CM’s statement on following court orders remains meaningless at this point, what remains to be seen is whether the State will go by the spirit of the order and stand by the observations made by the CEC and endorsed by the court. For Goa, what was needed then, and is even required now, is to stonewall any moves of tampering with its forest cover or the wildlife. These are the assets of the State that define the very identity of Goa, and there should have been no compromises, no matter the scale of development that is being pursued, or the sustainability.
The government can, however, use this apex court order effectively to rebuild burnt bridges of trust with the people of Goa, and as a first step drop cases registered by the State against protestors. There has to be rapprochement, and the government has to make the first reconciliatory move. While there is suspense on how the National Wildlife Board would reapply since the basic question of penetrating an environmental hotspot and a protected forest area remains unresolved, the CEC suggestion of an alternative with the third line from Toranagallu junction in Bellary district to Krishnapattam Port in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh must be pursued instead of a second line connecting Mormugao Port to the industrial belt in Bellary district.