THE GOAN NETWORK
Assembling under the banner of 'Villagers Against Destruction Due to Highways', some of the affected villagers from Goa Velha, Agassaim, Cortalim, Verna, Nuvem, Seraulim, Benaulim, Navelim, Dramapur, Cuncolim, Poinguinim and Loliem demanded the stoppage of all ongoing works on NH-17. They also demanded that no further works should be carried out until detailed studies of the impact on environment, villages and communities are undertaken and people consulted and allowed to participate in decision-making.
According to some of the affected villagers, some blatant violations in every section of the ongoing construction and the government's refusal to be factual or transparent indicate that this project is not in public interest. “CRZ violations, loss of prime agricultural lands and ponds, loss of flood prevention infrastructure due to massive land filling, large scale hill cutting, impact upon existing village roads and access to farm lands and other essential economic resources, division of villages, destruction of local communities and villages, loss of culture and social resources, wanton destruction of unique and invaluable ecological and environmental features of the State are some of the gigantic effects of the works on NH17. In contrast, there are no benefits at all,” they told mediapersons at a press conference held on Saturday in Margao.
Citing some examples, Dattaprasad Prabhugaonkar from Maxem (Canacona) said highway construction work had to be stopped in Maxem when locals pointed out to blatant CRZ violations some weeks back. “About a week ago, Agassaim farmers complained about criminal trespass into their prime agricultural lands, due to which the road constuction works had to be stopped in Agassaim also. Soon thereafter, incensed with the destruction of their village assets before their eyes, Navelim and Nuvem villagers demanded to see mandatory documents and permissions, but the contractor was not able to provide the same forcing him to stop the works,” they added.
Some other affected villagers claimed that there have been no EIA or social impact assessment studies. “The mandatory environmental clearance under EIA notification for highway sections greater than 100 km in length has been sidestepped by breaking the works into separate sections less than 100 km each,” informed the villagers.
At the press confernce, Harold Pinto of Navelim Civic and Consumer Forum said Land Acquisition Act 2013 has been bypassed while the Highway Act has prevailed in acquisition of the land for this highway. “The Highway Act cannot supersede the Land Acquisition Act,” he remarked, while claiming that the project is named as 'Mangalore Expressway 66'.
Dattaprasad Prabhugaonkar of Maxem said land admeasuring 2000 square metres has been acquired in Maxem for NH under the old Land Acquistion Act and no project has been constructed on this land for many years. Hence, Prabhugaonkar demanded that the land be reverted to the orginal owners.
Jose Pereira of Benaulim Civic and Consumer Forum also addressed the press conference, informing that Benaulim will be flooded in case work on the proposed NH-17 is undertaken on this stretch of this highway.