The CEC announced during its hearings on the Goa Foundation complaint before it that it would be visiting Goa for site inspections of all three infrastructure projects during January 2021.
The CEC conducted two hearings in December 2020 on the complaint filed by the Goa Foundation against the approvals granted to the three infrastructure projects by the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL). The first hearing took place on 11 December, and was devoted exclusively to the Tamnar High Tension Line project. The second hearing on 14th December took up the issues of double tracking of the railway by South Western Railway and the National Highway expansion of the NHAI and PWD (Goa).
Despite the complaint being filed in June 2020, the lawyers and officials appearing for the three projects did not have adequate or ready information when queried by the CEC. The standard answer was that they would consult, or submit the information after getting it.
The CEC made it clear during the hearings that it had received large numbers of complaints against the three infrastructure projects. The CEC repeatedly told the officials representing the three projects that Goa was a small place and therefore it was necessary to proceed with caution. They emphasized that this was Western Ghat terrain, tiger territory, and therefore it was their concern to ensure there was no damage.
Though making it very clear that they were making “preliminary observations”, the CEC came down heavily on the need for the railway doubling. The chairperson voiced serious apprehension:
“Exports of ore are hardly much … why do you need this line now? Many sites already present in S. India for import … why this line in an area in which you say there is great difficulty in construction … the Goan CM has made statements that the coal transport will be reduced in half … so what is the justification for this project ? … Also, now prices of iron ore are less, exports are stopping and imports are increasing … so what is the focus of this project?”
“About 10,00,000 [cm] of mud/muck will have to removed from the hill area. Of which, 5,58,638 will be have to be put in a dumpyard, as the rest you are using. Where will this mud/muck be dumped? Have you done any research?”
“Abandon this part if you can .. why didn’t you consider a corridor in a different stretch? Konkan Railways underutilized, so many other routes, this is such an inefficient line … larger issues involved here … please look at it/ consider. What is the demand of Goa? We want to be enlightened as to what we have missed … Area is very sensitive … if you want to pierce the Ghats, you must have an exceptional reason … What does Goa want? Convince us.” [CEC also clarifies that these are just prima facie observations]
In relation to the Highway expansion, the CEC found it difficult to understand how Karnataka is restricting road width to the existing 12 metres whereas Goa wants to increase it to 24 metres.
‘In what respect is the Kali area indispensable, and the Goa part of the Western Ghats dispensable? What’s the point in expanding the Goa part and the Karnataka part at the same time?”
Querying the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the CEC asked its representative (when he stated they had only received the Goa part of the proposal):
“Why will the Goa government send you the Karnataka part.. you are the central agency/body. You have to ascertain and find out from the Karnataka government regarding the Karnataka part. Better to examine the proposal as one whole, instead of piecemeal parts… recommendation of Goa part should be kept in abeyance. When Goa applied, they didn’t say that the part in question was only in Goa … NBWL has to consider ecology as a whole .. it is for the Central Govt. to gather information/ data.
The CEC asked the PWD to produce the order issued by the Ministry of Surface Transport to NHAI in relation to the entire project (that is, NH expansion from Panaji to Belgavi).
In relation to the Tamnar project, the counsel for the Goa Foundation told the CEC there were alternatives available for the alignment which did not require it to be taken through the Wildlife Sanctuary. She said she would bring these documents on record.
The complaint of the Goa Foundation alleges that none of the 3 projects can go through the Wildlife Sacntuary in view of Section 29 and Section 35 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 which explicitly forbid any development in any sanctuary unless it is certified that the development is in the interest of wildlife or improvement of the wildlife habitat.
Ms Shibani Ghosh, Ms Norma Alvares and Ms Anamika Gode appeared for the Goa Foundation.