Stop Borim bridge project 'bulldozing' without clearances, warn Loutolim locals

Villagers claim govt scheming to convert NH-17B into a 'coal highway'

THE GOAN NETWORK | MAY 19, 2024, 12:48 AM IST
Stop Borim bridge project 'bulldozing' without clearances, warn Loutolim locals

Farmers and villagers of Loutolim protest over the government’s plan to bulldoze with the Borim bridge through the Khazan fields sans permissions. Santosh Mirajkar

Photo Credits: The Goan

Asserting that the Goa government is "bulldozing" with the Borim bridge to convert the NH-17B into a coal highway, Loutolim farmers and villagers on Saturday warned that any attempt to interfere with the khazans and the lives of the local farmers. They said without obtaining prior environmental clearances, the project would not be allowed by the people of Loutulim at any cost.

Lamenting that a host of meetings the villagers had with senior PWD officials with a plea to stop building the bridge through the khazans have not yielded any results, the villagers warned the PWD officials not to misuse their powers to "please the coal lobby".

The villagers have vowed to defend the village and call upon all Goans to unite and support the locals of Loutulim and Borim against the "excesses" of the PWD officials and the "evil plans of corporates and Goa Government to make Goa a coal hub".

A large number of villagers and farmers hit the streets near the Loutolim Missing link to protest over the government’s repeated attempts to demarcate the land for the project. Condemning the ongoing land acquisition proceedings initiated for the construction of NH-17B (NH-566) through the villages of Loutulim and Borim, the villagers reiterated their claim that the bridge is only for transportation of coal from Mormugao Port to factories in Karnataka.

“The Government's own documents also reveal that the NH-17B construction will not only displace over four thousand members of indigenous communities of Loutulim and Borim, but will also displace all the fishers around Vasco City, endanger the health of Vasco residents, and open up all the khazans of Zuari, Cumbharjua and Mandovi rivers for coal storage and transportation, destroying scores of villages, displacing Goa's indigenous communities, and permanently erasing our ancient culture and civilization,” thundered social activist and Loutolim villager Xavier Fernandes.

He said the ongoing struggles against jetties proposed by the government in the 11 villages, including Loutulim and Borim, are just one of the many aspects of the "secretive plans" to make Goa a coal hub.

“The approval letter from the Chief Engineer (NH, R & B), PWD to the Chief Engineer (P - 6) MORTH dated (4/5) / 2017 states that Mormugao Port is the 'priority', indicating that our government has scant regard for the local communities and their transportation needs, and is willing to sacrifice Goa for the greed of coal corporations. The government has cunningly concealed the fact that the existing Borim bridge is to be repaired shortly, which will fulfil people's need for transportation on the Ponda-Margao route for the next 20 years. The proposal to construct the new bridge is based on this and numerous other lies, such as grossly inflated traffic figures, and is therefore fundamentally flawed,” he added.

Farmers pointed out that the villagers of Loutulim and Borim are enraged with PWD officials' recent attempts to start survey and demarcation of their lands without any respect for the law, or the people. The villagers pointed out that it has been clearly decided by the Supreme Court in PV Krishnamoorthy case that unless all environmental clearances are first obtained, the acquiring department cannot interfere with the people's possession of lands.

“In the case of the new Borim bridge acquisition, Environmental Clearances are required under CRZ Notification, Forest Conservation Act, and the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, which requires Environment Impact studies and assessment to be conducted first. However, PWD is arrogantly refusing to even acknowledge the existence of the khazans or forests or the applicability of these three laws. Further, the hearings of the hundreds of objections filed before the Land Acquisition Officer have not been decided, yet the PWD officers have commenced the survey and demarcation work on the false basis that all the objections of the villagers have been dismissed. When PWD officials were asked on site to produce copies of any orders dismissing the objections, they could not do so, and had to concede their lies and leave the site,” Xavier added

The villagers of Loutulim demanded that the government of Goa and PWD officials respect the law, the land, and the people, and refrain from carrying out any survey or demarcation until all the clearances required under CRZ Notification, Forest Conservation Act and Environment Impact Assessment Notification are first obtained and the objections of the villagers are finally decided by the highest courts of the country.

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