The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF) granted clearances for the diversion of 140 hectares of forest land for the Southern Railway’s double-tracking project. The move comes amidst the wide protests by locals and environmentalists against the project. The MoEF has also stated that at least 1,000 trees per hectare have to be planted as compensatory afforestation over-identified degraded forest land within three years of final approval for the project.
In a letter to the Goa Principal Secretary (Forests), the MoEF granted an in-principle approval or a stage 1 clearance for a diversion of 120.87 hectares of forest land for double-tracking between Castlerock railway station in North Karnataka to Kulem railway station in South Goa. Two other clearances were issued for the diversion of 1.90 hectares of private forest and 15.6 hectares of forest land for double-tracking between Kulem and Margaon railway stations in South Goa.
Three linear projects— the double-tracking scheme, the four-laning of a national highway, and the Goa-Yanmar transmission power project — have been protested by environmentalists. According to them, the projects could devastate forests in the Western Ghats on a wide scale, offer little benefits to local people, and were built to speed up the transport of coal from the Mormugao Port Trust to other locations.
Asserting that the Central clearances will be legally opposed, Claude Alvares, Director, and Goa Foundation, told The Indian Express that, “There was a huge uproar last year to protect Mollem and if the government can ignore the voice of its people then this is rather unfortunate. Then this is a government that is hostile to the interest of forests and its decisions are very superficial and impressionistic…the environment is sacrificed first and then the economy. But we will keep fighting and we will keep protesting.”