Thirty environmentalists across India have slammed hasty environment clearances given to three controversial central government projects in the protected forest areas in and around Goa's Mollem villages, stating that "environment impact assessment (reports) for these projects are considerably weak" and riddled with inadequacies.
In their study, the environmentalists who are associated with top institutes like the National Institute of Advanced Studies and the Azim Premji University in Bengaluru, Wildlife Conservation Trust in Mumbai, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, etc, have also called for an in-depth investigation into the cumulative impact on the protected areas as a result of the highway expansion, railway track doubling and a power transmission line project.
Critiquing the EIA report related to the expansion of National Highway 4A, the joint study states that the presence of tigers in the protected area -- one of the 32 tiger corridors in the country -- is not mentioned.
"The presence of the Bengal Tiger in the area is also not mentioned. The report states that no endangered species are found in the area which is clearly misleading, considering three endangered mammal species occur, including the Tiger, Dhole, and Indian Pangolin," the study states. EIA reports are essential to granting of environment clearances to large scale projects.
Nearly 50,000 trees in the Western Ghats region of Goa are slotted for felling to facilitate the three projects spread across the protected forests in and around Mollem village located in the Western Ghats region, including the highway expansion project.
The two other projects -- which have already been cleared by the National Board for Wildlife in April 2020 -- which have faced opposition is a project involving a power project which proposes to draw a 400 KVA power line from Karnataka to Goa and double tracking of the South Western Railway line from Castle Rock railway station in Karnataka to the Tinai ghat station in Goa.
Opposition as well as civil society groups and tourism stakeholders bodies have expressed apprehension that the projects were being pushed at an "express pace" to facilitate movement of coal imported through the Mormugao Port Trust facility in Goa to steel mills in Karnataka's Bellary district and nearby areas.
The environmental study also picks holes in the EIAs related to the South Western Railway project, stating that several important bird, mammal and insect species prevalent in the Western Ghats, where the track doubling project passes through, are missing. It has also pointed to several other factual inconsistencies.
"Asian Palm Civet is coded as a carnivore, but the Small Indian Civet, Brown Palm Civet, and Stripe-necked Mongoose are incorrectly coded as herbivores; the otter and Indian Pangolin are coded as large mammals, but the Asiatic Wild Dog, which is larger in size is coded as a small mammal," the study states.
"This reveals a naive understanding of mammals and the impacts that railway expansion could have on low-density species such as carnivores," it also adds.
The study has also critiqued the contents of the detailed project report (DPR) related to the drawing of a power transmission line through the protected forests in and around Mollem.
"These statements (in the DPR) do not recognise the larger effects of the transmission line on birds and volant mammals such as bats and gliding squirrels, or on arboreal species such as the Slender Loris, Giant Squirrel, Bonnet Macaque, and Grey Langur," the study states.
Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has defended the projects saying the road and rail expansion projects would help in creating a better and faster connectivity and increase tourist, while the power project would help provided uninterrupted power supply in Goa. In wake of the criticism over fears of increased transportation of coal through the road and rail projects, Sawant has also assured that the state government was looking to decrease coal handling at the state's Mormugao Port Trust by over 50 per cent, which would automatically substantially lower transportation of coal through Goa.