This past week, college students from across Goa have been writing open letters welcoming the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court, which is visiting the state on the 20th of January — as well as voicing their concerns about the three environmentally destructive projects being undertaken in the protected Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park (BMWLS and MNP). The CEC is coming to inspect and deliberate on these three projects, which were granted clearance by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in April of last year.
The CEC, constituted in July to judge the projects, decided to visit Goa after local environmental nonprofit Goa Foundation filed complaints against all three — the NH748 four laning, the Southwestern Railway double tracking and the 400 kv transmission line — in the Supreme Court earlier this year for alleged violations of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 (under which the BMWLS and MNP are protected critical wildlife habitats). The Goa Foundation case has received widespread support from locals, people across the country and around the world through the MyMollem (aka Amche Mollem or Save Mollem) movement.
While the MyMollem movement includes a diverse group of locals (whose concerns were disregarded in the entire clearance process) including those who stand to lose their lands and homes to the projects — the MyMollem movement has become largely youth driven, perhaps in part due to its large social media presence. Consequently, students across the state are increasingly aware of and concerned about the environmental destruction these projects would cause, and the effect that they would have on wildlife, nature, and the health of the populace. Seeing the ease with which the state and central governments dismissed local frustrations by granting clearance to the project in hearings that were not made publicly known, and ignoring science while getting the EIAs conducted (the NH748 expansion EIA says the road expansion would lead to an increase in animal habitats, for example), they have turned with hope to the CEC.
“[W]e, as patriotic young citizens of India find it surprising and distressing that large-scale deforestation is proposed in the name of development of infrastructure through our pristine Western Ghats,” wrote Valerie Afonso, a student at Goa University, in the official Youth of Goa forum letter signed by over 40 student representatives. In December, the Youth of Goa urged Chief Minister Sawant to halt the projects — to no avail. “As young citizens of Goa, with a lifetime ahead of us, it is our fear that we are staring at a bleak and desolate future compounded by a polluted and denuded environment,” she wrote.
Sabira Shaikh, a student of St. Joseph Vaz College, echoed Afonso’s concerns. In her letter she said a “quantum of irreversible destruction” was happening due to the Mollem projects.
However, both Afonso and Shaikh are hopeful that the CEC will decide in favor of the Goan people, and reject the projects. Shaikh said that the Goan youth “expect [the CEC] to understand” what is at stake, and “recommend a favorable verdict in favor of natural resources of Goa.” Afonso wrote that she was “thrilled” by the impending visit.
While less optimistic, other students’ letters show that they clearly appreciate the CEC taking the matter seriously, especially after seeing no progress with the state and central governments. “The [Chief Minister] Pramod Sawant remains adamant on the 3 projects despite widespread protests, for reasons better known to his own [government],” wrote Melroy Simoes from Assagao, “So the CEC’s visit to check the sites of the project is a welcome sign and does give some hope.”
“[We are] hoping the CEC will study the matter thoroughly, unlike some people, and take a decision which will save our Goa for our future,” wrote Ana Smriti Paes.
The Youth of Goa letter penned by Afonso and other student members also expressed a desire to meet with the CEC to talk with them about local concerns.
“We the youth would definitely like to meet the team as well and put forth our views, our worries, [and] our objections,” said Simoes.
In the official Youth of Goa letter, Afonso requested that the CEC to “kindly oblige us with an appointment so we can keep you abreast of the people’s sentiments and deep apprehensions that are fuelling the struggle to preserve the wellbeing, welfare and future of the state and its youth. [We await] a positive response from you for a brief interaction to place before you our findings which might contribute in a small way to your scrutiny for the feasibility of the 3 linear projects through Western Ghats.”
The youth of Goa are hopeful that the CEC will hear them out, and make a decision in line with the Wildlife (Protection) Act, as well as safeguarding Goa’s natural resources and their futures.