Goa Railway project receives forest clearance; rail line to pass through the Western Ghats

About 50,000 trees will be uprooted for laying down double railway tracks here.

The disputed Goa railway project via the Western Ghats has received a go-ahead for forest clearance. Granted by the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change, this project will strip nearly 50,000 trees from about 140 hectares of projected land of the Western Ghats. Though this approval has followed a long list of permits conceded earlier, it has also been opposed by many, especially locals, as it is a direct threat to the ecology of the area.

Hasty permission awarded to the Goa Railway Project

The proposed double-track railway line will connect the Castlerock Railway Station along the Karnataka border with Goa and the Margao Railway station in South Goa through the Western Ghats. The route will intersect the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park, two of the oldest wildlife sanctuaries. Additionally, the construction work is feared to destabilise the sensitive slopes of the Western Ghat mountain range, which can lead to landslides and other unforeseen consequences.

While the deputy inspector general has carefully weighed the proposal at the regional empowered committee meeting held on January 27, the clearance has now been challenged as a hasty decision that threatens the rich biodiversity of this region, before the Bombay High Court. In a communication to the forest secretary, the MoEF has informed that conditioned consent has been awarded on Goa's request.

The consent letter issued directs to grant in-principle stage-I approval for diversion of the forest land subject to conditions including transferring of money equal to the net present value of the forest land being diverted to the CAMPA funds for raising, maintaining the compensatory afforestation for the degraded forest land. This too has raised concerns among the people as the land-in question falls on the windward side of the Ghats and has a specific kind of flora.

The compensatory afforestation has, however, been proposed in Sutagatti, Iddalahonda, Ramadurg, Kakati, Suldal and Shigeholi villages of Gokak and Karkati talukas in Belgaum District of Karnataka, located in the shadow region of the mountain range that has very different vegetation.

Facilitating overall development or coal transportation?

Opponents have reasoned that this railway line is only being built to ease the transport of coal from Goa's Mormugao Port to Steel units in North Karnataka. This has also been listed as a major source of severe air pollution as it is handled in the open air. However, deconstructing all these concerns, the Railways has stated that this project will facilitate the overall general development of the region.

As per authorities, the basic idea of coal transportation via this route is misconceived, as the world is focusing to harvest non-conventional sources of energy. This is evident from the fact that Railways carried 12 million metric tons of coal (per year) in 2015-2016 which fell to 9 million metric tones, reducing by 25% by 2019-2020.

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