Goans oppose South Western Railway double-tracking

Reported by

Malavika Neurekar

Legal Data by

Anmol Gupta, Mukta Joshi

Edited by

Radhika Chatterjee

Updated by

Published on

June 23, 2022

June 23, 2022

Updated on

June 23, 2022

Location of Conflict

Velsao

Pale, Issorcim, Cansaulim, Arossim, Chandor, Mollem

South Goa

Reason or Cause of Conflict

Railways

(

Wildlife Sanctuary

)

People Affected by Conflict

Households Affected by Conflict

30

Land Area Affected (in Hectares)

1

ha

Starting Year

2020

State

Goa

Sector

Infrastructure

In February 2022, the Velsao Panchayat, which administers the villages of Velsao, Pale and Issorcim in South Goa, moved the High Court against double-tracking of the South Western Railway line between Hospet in Karnataka and Vasco da Gama in Goa. The local body claimed that it had not been consulted before the project was approved and the required permits had not been acquired. Six private landowners in Velsao have approached the High Court separately on similar grounds. Residents of Cansaulim-Arossim-Cuelim panchayat area were also agitating against the acquisition of land for the project, but their panchayat said it did not have the authority to take action.

Of the entire stretch that the railway line will cut through in Goa, Velsao-Pale-Issorcem is one of the most densely-populated areas, said Olencio Simoes, joint secretary of Goencho Ekvott, a civil society organisation that is leading the protests against the double tracking project. Protests in the area picked up pace in November 2021, when villagers came out in large numbers to oppose the land survey and demarcation work being carried out by Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL). According to Olencio Simoes, RVNL officials forcefully entered private land and installed barbed wires to fence off the land.

Residents said the existing railway track passing through the village has been built on land that has still not been acquired. “When the existing track was laid in 1890, this land was given by the people as a ‘gift’ to the Portuguese government. The Railway continues to use the land but ownership belongs to the original land owners,” said Simoes. Heritage conservationist groups and activists say that double tracking will increase vibrations from the train movement and cause cracks in the homes lined along the road.

A larger state-wide agitation has been brewing in Goa since June 2020 against the section of the proposed rail line that would cut through the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park. The double-tracking of South Western Railways is one of the three linear projects in the state sanctioned in December 2019 and April 2020 during the first lockdown, allegedly without adequate debate and consultation. The other two projects were the laying of an additional transmission line and the widening of National Highway 4A. The railway line, which would cut across 342 km of land in the two states of Goa and Karnataka, is divided into two phases: Hospet-Tinaighat and Tinaighat-Vasco. The Castle Rock-Kulem stretch of Phase II cuts through 120 hectares of forest land, including 113 hectares of protected land, and the Kulem-Margao section of the same phase cuts through 16 ha of forest land, including 14 hectares of protected area. As many as 59,000 trees are likely to be cut for the three projects.

In early 2020, Goa’s civil society erupted in a series of marches, study groups, created protest art, and launched a massive awareness campaign. Citizen movements like Goyant Kollso Naka (‘No Coal in Goa’), Aamchem Mollem (‘Our Mollem’), and Goenche Ekvott led the agitation. They highlighted the wealth of biodiversity housed in the protected forest stretch and pointed to shortcomings in the Environment Impact Assessment reports (here and here). These included problems like vague methodology, glaring omissions of certain species, undercounting of mammal species, and lax standards of monitoring.

On May 9, 2022, the Supreme Court struck down the environmental clearance granted by the National Board for Wildlife to a 26 Kilometre stretch extending from Castle rock in Karnataka to Kulem in Goa. This verdict came in light of the recommendations of the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) constituted by the Court for examining the clearance. The apex court also noted that the capacity of the existing track is underutilised. However, work beyond the Kulem stretch – which includes Velsao, Cansaulim, and Chandor, among others is continuing. Villagers have pointed out that it is a waste of money to continue work on one stretch when proposed work on another section has been struck down.

The two cases related to the Velsao Panchayat remain pending in the High Court. 

Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Refusal to give up land for the project

Demand to cancel the project

Complaint against procedural violations

Demand to retain/protect access to common land/resources

Other Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Region Classification

Urban and Rural

Type of Land

Common and Private

Type of Common Land

Forest, Non-Forest (Other than Grazing Land)

Total investment involved (in Crores):

2127

Type of investment:

Cost of Project

Year of Estimation

2019

Page Number In Investment Document:

4

Has the Conflict Ended?

No

When did it end?

Why did the conflict end?

Categories of Legislations Involved in the Conflict

Legislations/Policies Involved

Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972
Section 38O [Tiger Conservation Authority to have power to ensure that protected areas or tiger reserve not diverted for ecologically unsustainable interests. Such diversion must be done with the approval of the National Board for Wild Life]
Goa Panchayat Raj Act, 1994
Section 66 [No person to erect any building without the written permission of the Panchayat]
Railways Act, 1989
Section 4(2) [Members of Gram Sabha to be included in the process of carrying out social impact assessment study], Section 11(2) [Concerned Gram Sabha to be informed of the contents of preliminary notification]
Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013
Section 4(2) [Members of Gram Sabha to be included in the process of carrying out social impact assessment study], Section 11(2) [Concerned Gram Sabha to be informed of the contents of preliminary notification]
F. No. 11-38/2016-FC, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (Forest Conservation Division), dated December 5, 2017
For projects falling under Section 11 of the Railways Act, 1989, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 will be applicable for diversion of forest land for non-forestry purpose irrespective of ownership of forest land. For ‘Protected Areas’ and areas falling under Eco Sensitive Zones, the approval of the State Board of Wildlife and National Board of Wildlife is required.
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    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Whether claims/objections were made as per procedure in the relevant statute

What was the claim(s)/objection(s) raised by the community?

What was the Decision of the Concerned Government Department?

Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:

Violation of environmental laws

Non-consultation with stakeholders

Controversial land acquisition by the government

Non-implementation/violation of LARR Act

Legal Status:

In Court

Status of Case In Court

Pending

Whether any adjudicatory body was approached

No

Name of the adjudicatory body

Name(s) of the Court(s)

Supreme Court, Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court

Case Number

I.A. no. 107884 of 2021 and I.A. no. 30853 of 2022 in W.P. (C) 202/1995 [Supreme Court], WP 25/2022 [Bombay High Court]

Main Reasoning/Decision of court

On May 9, 2022, the Supreme Court struck down the environmental clearance granted by the National Board for Wildlife to a 26 Kilometre stretch extending from Castle rock in Karnataka to Kulem in Goa. The Court relied heavily on the report furnished by the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC). The Court cited the law on sustainable development and precautionary principle. The Court agreed with the recommendation of the CEC that coal needs of the country can be met by utilizing Krishnapatnam port. NTCA had prepared a viability report for the part of the railway line in Karnataka but not for the part in Goa. The Court noted that there should be a detailed study and analysis of the impact of the proposed project on bio-diversity and ecology of the area. The Court thus revoked the approval granted by the Standing Committee of the NBWL. However, it stated that the decision will not preclude RVNL from carrying out a detailed analysis on the impact of the proposed project and then submit a fresh proposal to the Standing Committee of the NBWL.

Major Human Rights Violations Related to the Conflict:

Arrest/detention/imprisonment

Whether criminal law was used against protestors:

Yes

Reported Details of the Violation:

On the intervening night of November 1 and 2, 2020, around 3,000 Goans gathered at Chandor - one of the affected villages - to protest double tracking. In the following week, six conveners of two NGOs (Goyat Kolso Naka and Goencho Ekvott) were booked by the police. They were charged with unlawful assembly, wrongful restraint, and rioting. As of May 2022, even after the Supreme Court verdict, these charges have not been dropped, inviting severe criticism from activists. Separately, on December 19, 2020 - Goa's Liberation Day, a number of protesters had organised a march in the heart of capital city Panjim. To avoid a clash with President Ram Nath Kovind, who was visiting the state at the time, the police detained several people gathered outside the Immaculate Conception Church. Those detained, which included students and youngsters, were released late into the night.

Date of Violation

December 18, 2020

Location of Violation

Panjim, Chandor

Nature of Protest

No items found.

Government Departments Involved in the Conflict:

Goa state government, South western railways, Velsao panchayat, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Union of India

PSUs Involved in the Conflict:

Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd

Did LCW Approach Government Authorities for Comments?

Aneesh Hegde, Chief Public Relations Officer at South Western Railway, said "We will study the [SC] judgement in detail, consult our legal team and then explore the options...That verdict has been given concerning the stretch between Castle Rock to Kulem, so we will study that [stretch] first and then decide on the further course of action." When asked about any plans to survey or reconsider the stretch passing through Velsao, Pale, Issorcem, and other villages, Hegde said, "I am not aware. It may have been [undertaken] but I am not aware."

Name, Designation and Comment of the Government Authorities Approached

Corporate Parties Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Corporate Parties for Comments?

Communities/Local Organisations in the Conflict:

Goenche Ekvott, Goyant Kollso Naka, Aamchem Mollem, Goa Foundation

Resources Related to Conflict

  • News Articles Related to the Conflict:
  • Documents Related to the Conflict:
  • Links Related to the Conflict:

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