Placid is not the only distinctive feature of this government in Goa. Well after a month since election results were announced, the BJP is tottering with government formation. Governance is near-invisible.
In quick time, the government has made known anti-democratic/anti-people credentials. It pretends it is pro-development when, in fact it is the opposite. Ministers are openly dismissive of people’s aspirations. One of them insists that the State needs the Tamnar power line project given the phenomenal increase in power requirement of the State asserting that it will be the ‘ lifeline for the people of Goa’. Clearly, the government is out of sync with what people are claiming and the alternatives they are proposing. They ignore customary laws and ignore people’s claims about the enormous risks that these projects will bring to the forests around Mollem, the National Park, and Bhagwan Wildlife Sanctuary. Environmental democracy does not remotely exist in the socio-legal lectionary of the government.
Government must now take cognizance of the Supreme acceptance of the recommendation of the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) to utilize the existing 220 KV power line alignment in Goa, instead of cutting down fresh forest cover, to lay a new 400 KV line for the ruthless Goa-Tamnar Transmission Project. To the plea by ‘Goa Foundation’, a three-judge bench accepted the proposal made by the CEC in its April 23, 2021 report. The Committee had said that the move will “help in saving the previous forest cover and wildlife in the ecologically fragile and biodiversity rich Western Ghats”. The CEC is of the considered view that instead of clearing the upper crust of virgin forest cover along 10.50 km long corridor, the proposed 400 KV line should be drawn along the existing 220 KV corridor line in Goa State.
The Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife had previously cleared two more projects – the doubling of the railway track from Castle Rock in Karnataka to Kulem in Goa and the four-laning of NH 4A from Anmod near the Goa-Karnataka border to Mollem. Environmentalists and rights holders in and around the location rejected these projects and that resulted in the ‘Save Mollem’ campaign. The CEC recommended revoking permission for the railway expansion project, saying it “will only be marginally enhancing the capacity of the most inefficient section of the railway network passing through ecologically sensitive and biodiversity rich Tiger Reserve, two Wildlife Sanctuaries and a National Park”. The report asserts: “Considering the future increase in traffic, something unavoidable and keeping in view the interest of the Wildlife Sanctuary and the National Park it is imperative to ensure improvement of the existing road by shifting it to an elevated structure at strategic locations leaving the surface terrain free for movement of all types of wildlife”. Amche Mollem Citizens group vow that citizens will persist with mobilizing peoples power in Mollem and Goa, as a whole to fight to save their forests against from environmentally detrimental projects. Goa as a corridor for coal, should be viewed as utterly reckless and is replete with health and environmental hazards. It is an extension of crony capitalism and must meet its demise.
In the same vein, because of the successful campaign in Melaulim by the resolute resistance of the local peoples, and wider solidarity of environmentalists and social activists, the government was forced to eat humble pie. But the government retained a trump card. They have not officially returned property documents to the people. Hence, the people remain alert to possible designs of the government to re-launch usage of the lands. They will not surrender ecological assets possessed with an unqualified bio-diversity. Eco-researchers claim that around 81.38 hectares of the 1,629.14 is under forest cover. Its proximity to three wild life sanctuaries in Bondla, Mhadei, and Mahavir necessitates their utmost protection. Meanwhile, there has been no serious punishment against the cops who went on a brute rampage against protesters, especially women who they trampled over.
A new government cannot be a rejectionist of collective aspirations. Forests and ecology do not belong to the government. They belong to the ‘commons’. The ‘commons’ represent the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including such things as air, water, and a habitable Earth. These resources are held in common even when owned privately or publicly. Commons are natural resources that ‘rights holders’ manage for collective benefit. They are also defined as a social practice of governing a resource not by state or market but by a community of users that self-governs the resource through traditions that it socially constructs. The Western Ghats is older than even the Himalayas. By tampering with the eco-culture of these treasured areas, the government risks letting loose climate and environmental injustices that will inexplicably impair tribal peoples, and their staple sources of sustenance.
The only real guaranteed protection for these contested areas is for government to appoint a compact ‘Peoples Watch’ of qualified environmentalists and sociologists, and legal persons committed to eco-justice, At stake are at least 138.37 hectares of forest land, and 22,882 trees that will be felled. The four-lane highway expansion will cut into 63.615 hectares of forest land and result in the felling of 20,240 trees. Much of this environmental havoc will be inflicted in protected areas and tribal populations. .
Unless an alert, agile and independent expert civil society monitors environmental policies, there will be gross mismanagement and multiple faultlines. Take that in writing!
Ranjan Solomon is a human rights activist, and political commentator who subscribes to the power and potential of environmental democracy.