Sagarmala, a project designed to modernise India’s ports, threatens to wipe out the livelihoods of fisher folk in Goa. A public hearing on the matter will be held on 5 October, 2018.
Fishing is the economic mainstay of several communities in the coastal state of Goa. But mechanisation of fishing, coupled with industrialisation and environmental degradation, is threatening the livelihoods of traditional fishing communities.
The fishing community in Khariwado, a kilometre-long stretch in Vasco da Gama, which has seen its fortunes dwindle over time, is now opposing a new project that threatens to wipe out their source of livelihood. The beach is contiguous with the Mormugao Port, one of the biggest ports in India, and has borne the onslaughts of controversial port expansion projects over the years.
“60% of the beach is already contaminated, and the remaining 40% has disappeared altogether. Further dredging will wipe out the entire beach,” says Olencio Simoes, vice chairperson of the National Fishworkers’ Forum.
The latest projects of the Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) include a fishing jetty, a passenger jetty, a POL (petroleum, oil and lubricant) jetty and general cargo berths. These projects are part of the Sagarmala Project, an initiative of the central government to modernise ports across India. The fishing jetty is proposed to be constructed in Khariwado, and the seabed is already being dredged for the project. While the fishing community is not opposing the fishing jetty itself, they are opposing the MPT’s proposal to build a 520-metre finger quay with a petroleum, oil and lubricants berth.
“The authorities are trying to trick us by saying that they are building a fishing jetty, but it is a POL jetty,” says Simoes. Residents fear that the fishing jetty could be a way to evade the NGT’s order and continue to serve corporate interests.
A fishing jetty would not require the kind of dredging that the MPT is currently undertaking. In September 2016, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had halted the dredging activity that the Trust was then carrying out for the construction of a new berth because it had begun the work before it got the Environmental Clearance to do so. Moreover, the MPT had bypassed the compulsory public hearing, and the NGT also found discrepancies in the Environmental Impact Assessment Report, which the Bombay High Court upheld. A public hearing was finally held in February 2017, but 65% of the dredging had already been done by then.
A petroleum and oil jetty will mean greater industrial activity in the vicinity, more pollution and related health hazards, and displacement of the fishing community. Even the neighbouring Baina beach, another fishing hub, will be affected.
“If the beach ceases to exist, we will lose our way of life and our source of livelihood,” says Custodia D’souza, a fisherman representing the Old Cross Canoe Owners Association. It will affect not only the local fishing community but also migrant communities who work in the Goan fishing industry due to lack of better opportunities back home. Overall, 2000 families in the area are engaged in fishing.
Residents also fear demolition and displacement. “Communities that have lived here for 200 years are being told by the MPT that their homes are going to be demolished,” says Simoes. The Environmental Impact Assessment Report, however, maintains that there is no resettlement and rehabilitation plan since the project will be carried out on the existing port premises and no land will be acquired.
“The coast is nearly destroyed, Jindal is responsible for it,” says Juze Roderigues, a 75-year-old from Khariwado.
Jindal Steel Works (JSW) accounts for the bulk of the operations being carried out at the Mormugao Port, and the company was banned from transporting coal for flouting the permit prescribed by the Goa State Pollution Control Board. This affected not only the company’s profits but also the profits of the MPT, which gets 18% of the revenue generated by the South West Port, the JSW berths in the Mormugao Port. However, the Board announced a fresh permit for the company in June 2018.
In the meantime, this trail of industrialisation is leaving an irreversible imprint on the lives of ordinary Goans. Fishing communities are losing their source of livelihood, and people are suffering from respiratory and reproductive illnesses and conventional lifestyles– all in the name of development.
To ensure that development projects do not evade public scrutiny and transparency and that development is participatory, the environment clearance process mandates that a public hearing be held, where stakeholders can have direct interaction with government.
On October 5 2018, an environment public hearing was held in Vasco da Gama where residents presented their views, sought clarifications or information about the project; and hopefully, the government will listen.
Video by Community Correspondent Devidas Gaonkar
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team