Goa Mollem Protests- The Fight Against Coal

Hello everybody, Chances are that you don’t know about it because it is an issue that hasn’t been talked about much by our national media. For the last many months, thousands of people are protesting against a critical environmental issue, the Mollem National Park. 19th December is celebrated as the Goa Liberation Day because Indian government threw out Portuguese colonisers from Goa on this very day in 1961. So, on this occasion on 18th December, 2020, some protesters stood holding sign boards and wearing t-shirts that said “Save Mollem”. 

Without any provocation, they did not even do anything...there even were some children there standing with their posters, Police detained them. So, let’s get to know why this entire protest is happening in the first place. In simple words, the government in the name of development wants to clear forests in an ecologically sensitive area without consulting the public. In this case, the ecologically sensitive area is the Bhagwan Mahavir Sanctuary and Mollem National Park, the pride of Goa. Spread across 240 sq kms, it is Goa’s largest protected area. It is one of the 8 hottest biodiversity hotspots in the world. 


That means a high variety of plant and animal life is found here, the likes of which are found at very few places in the world. There are some great tourist attractions here as well such as the Dudhsagar Falls, Devil’s Canyon. There is a temple too so it is quite a popular destination for tourism as well. So, what is the development that the government wants to do here? There are three projects: one is a highway which the government wants to be four-lane, another one is a railway line and the third is a power transmission line. All these three projects are going through the middle of this wildlife sanctuary. Geographically, if you look at it on a map then these three projects will look this way. 

A railway line is going from the lower region, highway is crossing from the middle and in the upper region is the power transmission line. So, for all the three projects, trees would be cut off. It has been estimated that about 20, 000 trees would be felled for the railway line, 40,000 for the highway and about 5,000 for the power transmission line In total, it is being estimated that 60,000-80,000 trees are to be felled. Now you will ask here, what’s the harm? Some trees will have to be felled for a little bit of development.

 These are three main problems First problem is that prior to approving these projects, the government did not do any assessment, did not follow proper procedure and did not even consult the public. In fact, two of three projects were approved during lockdown due to Covid 19. In the month of March, the National Board of Wildlife approved these projects through video conferencing. When the central government was asked how this was approved then they said that the state panel approved it therefore we approved it as well.

 News is that some 5-6 members of the state panel have alleged that they were not even consulted. In fact they did not even know that clearance had already been given. Omkaar Dharwaskar is naturalist who also attended the State Wildlife meeting has said that they have not given any approval in that meeting. This project was not approved. But the minutes of the meeting say exactly the opposite and the project was subsequently approved after being forwarded to the National Wildlife Board. 

The second problem is that environmental activists and protesters believe that this is not only about a few trees but the entire Goa is being transformed into a coal hub. The extension of the railway line and the highway is not for the convenience of the public but rather for the convenience of big corporations. It is being done so that the transportation of coal is simpler. RTI activist and lawyer Savio Correia says that all three projects are part of the government’s Sagarmala project which was approved by the central government in 2016 for the development of Goa’s port. This project aims to develop Goa into a coal transportation corridor. Mormugao port is a port in South Goa and according to the projections of its trust, by 2030, they wish to import 51.6 million tonnes of coal for Adani group, JSW Group and Vedanta. The names of these groups have come up here although the Adani group denies it. 

This is the reason, many protesters of Goa have pointed out Adani as well. If this railway will in fact be used to transport coal then remember one thing, the coal dust can travel up to 5-15 kms due to the wind and depending on the speed of the train. "-Coal is entering their houses, if you...-in what way? -You just have to ask them for tea and probably you will see that in the saucer and you see that in their kitchen ... -There's coal in their saucer? -Exactly! You see that in the kitchen, the living room. You can’t live in that house. Your children need nebulizers from morning to afternoon In the morning they start brooming, they collect coal in their house and by evening again... -black particles of dust... This coal dust is not only a threat to the environment but also for the fishing industry, agriculture, tourism as well as for the public. 

If Goa really turns into a coal hub then think about it, would you want to go to Goa beaches as a tourist where you will find coal dust in the air? Perhaps this is the reason that in 2013 the then CM of Goa Manohar Parrikar rejected this railway line project in Goa. This is the reason friends that today the protesters stand with banners that say “Goyant Kollso Naka”. Forgive me if the pronunciation is not correct but it basically means that we don’t want coal in Goa. 

The third problem is that if any railway line or highway goes through a wildlife sanctuary then it results in habitat fragmentation which can eventually lead to the extinction of many animal and bird species. Habitat fragmentation basically means that you split a big ecosystem in small pieces due to which animals are not able to interact from one piece to another. This usually happens whenever a highway goes through a wildlife sanctuary. Imagine, there is a squirrel species and it has only 50 members left because it is an endangered species. So, 50 squirrels live in a big forest but if a highway goes right through the middle of the forest then the forest will be divided into two. 

Now, assume that 25 squirrels live on each side. Now animals living in each of these parts cannot go to the other part because of the highway. It is quite difficult for them to transfer from one side to another. The first problem arising out of this is that if the minimum number of any animal does not exist in any part then its entire species will become extinct due to inbreeding depression. You can search about inbreeding depression. It is quite an interesting thing. Secondly, any natural calamity or if any disease spreads that say results in the death of 23 out of 25 squirrels so it is not possible for that species to survive with so few animals. 

This can happen in a big forest as well but if you start splitting the forest from the middle and making fragments of it, then the chances of it happening increase manifold. Overall, the highway and the railway line will split the wildlife sanctuary in three fragments This increases the chances of any animal extinction by three times. The public has expressed its protest through various means. There are different trends on social media on hand while there are protests on ground on the other hand. Even children have participated in these protests. More than 150 scientists have written letters to the government to tell them why this project should not go through. 

The common public has even written emails to the government as to why this project must not be executed. If you want to see the latest updates on this protest on twitter then you can follow this account “Save Mollem campaign”. I will attach the link in the description below. Goa’s youth also wrote letters to their respective MLAs in order to pressurize the government. What was the government’s response regarding all of this? What would you expect? Think about it, what would be the government’s response in such cases? If you are thinking that the way the government responded to the farmers' protest, they would respond the same way here as well then you are right. Because the government has said that all protests are funded by the opposition and all these protesters are misled. 

The famous leaders of this protest have been booked under several FIRs, detained and like I mentioned in the beginning, even children have been detained by the government. But fortunately, the good news is that the High Court has stayed at least one of the three projects. On 8th December, the High Court stayed the power transmission line project. But for the rest of the two projects, the government can still execute. This is why it is important to raise a voice regarding this, whichever way you can do it. If you live in Goa, you can join the protesters.

 If you are not living in Goa then you can raise your voice on social media by using #SaveMollem Share this video with as many people as you can so that the voice raised reaches the government and pressurizes them to stop these projects for the sake of climate and the public. The good news is that when the public raises a voice then it does create pressure on the government. Remember the Aarey forest case; the final end result has been a positive one. As soon as Uddhav Thackeray was made the CM, he took a decision in favour of Aarey forest by moving the metro rail project elsewhere and saving the Aarey forest. 

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