Protests over planning of infra project in Goa protected forest in India Climate change news

If Jean Pereira had one thing at night, it was the future UN of Mollem National Park, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site, a lush, thin, and mostly obsolete forest bordering the western ghats of India, Goa and Karnataka.

But one day he fears the protected forest will be desecrated as it will cut down 600,000 trees for three infrastructural projects.

In the village of Sangod, a mile from Mollem, more than 3,000 trees have already been cut down and lined up on both sides of the unchanged road.

The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -led Goa government has been accused of approving projects in “unreasonable haste” in April last year, alleging they did not consult villagers or monitor the process properly.

Projects, which will cut through the Mollem National Park and the adjoining Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, include the expansion of a national highway from the capital Panjim to neighboring Belgaum in Karnataka, doubling of railway tracks that will run through Goa Mollem Forest and Karnataka Creating a power transmission line through the forest.

A view of the Western Ghats in India, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site [Charlene Anne/Al Jazeera]

“No research has been done to assess the impact of projects on forests,” Pereira said.

Coal and Corporation

Since October last year, the Perekera Chikimim Youth Farmers Club, Goyant Kolso Naka (Gwans against Quantum), and Gwencho Ekvote (The People’s Movement) have led various protests against the protection of about three thousand concerned citizens, educators across the city of Goan.

Environmentalists have repeatedly warned of the dangers faced by this fragile forest and its unique biodiversity if projects are implemented. The projects also threaten to destroy livelihood and heritage sites – some of which were built nearly 200 years ago – and are a testament to the culture and colonial history of the former Portuguese colony of Goa.

Pereira said villagers were unaware of these projects from the beginning and accused the government of “sacrificing Goa’s biodiversity” to benefit from cheap fossil fuels.

Gautam Adani, the chairman and founder of the Adani Group, the largest coal producer in the region, is close to the ruling BJP.

“Governments (federal and state) are widely seen as owned by the Adani corporate empire,” said Claude Alvarez, director of the Goa Foundation, one of the state’s oldest environmentalist works.

Residents say the Adani Group will transport coal from Australia to steel plants in the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra through the Goa Mormugao Port Trust (MPT), built in the 19th century.

Other corporations are Jindal and Bedanta benefit In 2018, MPT waived 50 per cent on port charges to Adani and Jindal. Besna Group is involved in the Sesa Sterlite power transmission line project.

Corporations will use their designated coal berths in the MPT to increase coal transportation, said Max D’Souza, a member of the Vigars Action Committee against Double Tracking (VACAD). “Intelligence will not see any benefit from these projects without destruction,” he said.

Residents say the consequences of transporting coal through the forest will be dire [Gina Pereira/Al Jazeera]

“They (corporations) do not influence government decisions, they make decisions and the government implements them,” Alvarez said.

The three corporate groups did not respond to Al Jazeera’s phone and email requests.

‘Coastal belt at risk’

Residents’ worst fears came true last month after they were allowed to clear 140 hectares (345 acres) of forest land for the Southwest Railway (SWR) project.

“They (federal and state governments) are ignoring the law and the villagers. They are behaving like an authoritarian government, ”Pereira said.

In January, the Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee (CEC) inspected the sites of three projects to conduct independent investigations, the results of which are still pending.

Yet the government did not stop cutting down trees, Perera said. “It’s not just forests, our coastal belts are at risk. They are destroying the lungs of Goa. ”

Swasha Khandiparkar, a resident of Mollem, was listening to the distinct tunes of blue robins, walnuts and kingfishers as her family went on a weekly jungle safari trip.

“We used to eat wild berries, collect wild flowers with my grandmother and bathe in the river and get fish pedicures for free,” he said.

Now, his fifty-year-old house with its sleek Portuguese porch, wooden beams and long ceilings lined with red tiled roofs can be spread on the ground to make way for infrastructure projects.

The ancestral home of Swasha Khandiparkar in Mollem which is facing destruction [Charlene Anne/Al Jazeera]

The only source of their income, the family has run a wine shop for 25 years, it will be forced to close, Khandaker told Al Jazeera.

Last month, the government offered to compensate residents at risk for their housing and livelihoods, but many turned it down. Their argument is that houses are historically and emotionally significant and cannot justify the destruction of any meaning.

Residents in the area said they were also promised jobs when the projects were completed, but said they were skeptical.

‘Green Heart of Goa’

The “magical Mollem”, known as the green heart of Goa, covers 240 square kilometers (149 square miles) of the Western Ghats in India.

It is a 150 million year old reserve with thousands of wildlife species. From pangolins and wild frogs to 120 species of butterflies and mammals, some ecologists say its biodiversity is as important as the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

Goa Chief Minister Promod Sawant has defended the projects and said that doubling of railways would accelerate the socio-economic development of the state.

Goa Power and Environment Minister Nilesh Cabral had earlier denied the government’s plan to turn Goa into a coal hub, but defended the need for a second railway, claiming it was a “request of the people”.

Cabral and Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, did not respond to requests for Al Jazeera’s phone and email interviews.

Alvarez said the consequences of transporting coal through the forest would be dire because residents are deeply concerned about their health because the increase in coal transportation would contaminate water and food.

Residents very close to MPT are already suffering from respiratory complications due to open air processing of coal on sea and train routes.

They say coal particles pollute the air and accumulate on the beach, blacken the gold sand and affect tourism in the state – the primary source of income in Goa, which has already been hit by 1 1 billion due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Tourism is the primary source of income for Goa, along with enjoyable forests and beaches [Swasha Khandeparker/Al Jazeera]

‘We want sustainable development’

Globally, developed economies are abandoning coal energy in favor of natural gas, solar and other sustainable alternatives.

But Goa residents say the BJP is increasing the use of fossil fuels by scattering corporations, and the move against the UN climate report emphasizes that coal, oil and gas production must be reduced by 100 per cent a year by 2000 to avoid a “severe climate disruption”. .

“We are not against development, but we want sustainable development,” Pereira said.

Villagers also fear an increase in attacks on Indian bison, snakes, bears and other animals displaced by infrastructure projects.

Alvares says India’s 1972 Wildlife Conservation Act prohibits forest cover, adding that overhead power transmission lines can be a hazard to safety.

Public health officials have also warned of the spread of zoonotic disease, with Collid-19 being an example if Mollem’s fragile ecosystem is disrupted.

In the last decade, the temperature in Goa has risen, the winters have warmed up. The monsoon that started in June and started in September will now come in August and end in October.

“Improper rainfall is causing crop damage and farmers’ livelihoods.”

Day to coincide with the release of Goa on December 19 during a demonstration, the police panajimera “Save mollema” T-shirt demonstrators were detained. Among those arrested were Youth Group Captain Virioto Fernandez and Rev. Dr. Bolmax was Pereira.

Rev. Pereira referred to it as “Black Day” and said, “If young people choose not to rise at this crucial time, future generations know they will lose this beautiful paradise forever.”

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