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Caught Between Environment And Development, Goa’s Lungs Are Under Threat

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On the night of November 1, 2020, around 5000 people gathered on a railway track in Chandor village of the western Indian state of Goa.

Despite the growling fear of a pandemic, these people were determined and resolute towards their demand of shutting down the controversial infrastructural projects that threatened to wipe out 170 hectares of forest land and therefore disrupt the surrounding wildlife.

Not The First Time

The threat to natural resources and the ecosystem due to the rising number of infrastructure projects in Goa is not new. The overnight cutting down of six mangrove trees in 2019 is one such event in past that erupted massive uproar.

Supreme Court lifting the restrictions on the construction of Mopa Airport earlier this year is yet another example of denial of the needs for environmental protection and preservation. It was interesting to see that this judgement was taken by the same bench of Justice Chandrachud and Justice Hemant Gupta that halted this project in its previous decision.

Preservation of livelihoods, forest, water sources, culture and countless species of flora and fauna were considered a luxury while developments that include the construction of shopping malls, convention centres, bullet trains, international airports, casinos, tourism infrastructure, five-star hotels and resorts, urban redevelopment etc were considered a human need. Many false declarations however were made and poor Environmental Impact Assessment was done, but no action was taken against the EIA consultants or the officers who made the disclosure.

Many of the reports presented by them considered Goa as treeless and waterless barren land. Further, 55000 trees were justified to be cut down however many ecological outfits believed that 200000 have been annexed in the area.

Protests For Mollem

The recent protests against the decision to wipe out 170 hectares of protected land follow a similar script. The planned infrastructure projects are expected to divert 250 hectares of land, 170 hectares of which falls within protected areas. According to local concerns, the projects aim to widen the highway and deepen six rivers for barges to facilitate the transportation of coal. Although such infrastructural projects have been allowed historically, they have to adhere to the MoEFCC guidelines stating them to be “most exceptional of circumstances”.

There is a set of procedure under India’s Environmental (Protection) Act of 1986 which empowers the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) to review the environmental impacts of such projects. And only after the public consultation is done, the environmental ministry can accept the final recommendations of EAC. However, according to Deepika D’souza (one of the protest organisers) and other Goa-based environmentalists, these projects neither got approval from local authorities nor the communities they affect. She further affirms that these projects only benefit “big industrial houses and not the local Goans”.

Further, it has been found that the entire Mollem project has been broken down into smaller low impact projects which seem to be an attempt to bypass the law rather than to accept and adhere it.

There have been questions over the sanctity of the claims on Compensatory Afforestation made by authorities as Goa has been inefficient in its pursuits towards Compensatory afforestation in the past 10 years. This forced MoEFCC to stop allocating funds to Goa under the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority. Further, what kind of trees do they actually consider trees is a question.

Initially, there has been a lot of uncertainty over the identification of forest land in Goa. Doubts over the identification and demarcation of forest cover went on for years in the High Court and Supreme Court. Such variabilities have only added to the atrocities of the Goan wildlife with Indian Forest Survey noting a loss of 51 square kms of trees in 2019 as compared to 2017. The projects that were undertaken in the meantime were mostly focussed in benefitting certain business interests.

The infrastructure developments in the Mollem too are oriented towards the needs of the Adani group to mobilise through that area.

The widespread concern is that the coal transportation through the area “will impact small and dense surrounding villages by causing air pollution, contaminate freshwater sources, and will affect fishing, a primary source of livelihood for people in Goa”.

The ongoing online petitions and mobilisation of the communities by D’souza’s coalition have been creating a huge impact.

Not Just Goa

The issue is not limited to Goa. India currently ranks 168 among the 180 countries in the Environmental Performance index. Modi Government has not just been disinterested but has rather been aversive towards the concerns of environmental protection. In 2015, small coal mines in coal-rich Singrauli region, which is a critically polluted industrial region, have been allowed to expand. Furthermore, the Ministry adopted a cluster approach in clearing smaller coal mines in the coal-rich regions of the nation.

The decisions came in the backdrop of slow industrial and manufacturing growth. The Ministry lifted the moratorium on the eight critically polluted regions of the nation. Moreover, in the year 2018, it was identified that 15 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are from India. Many laws were changed across the state and central capacities during the 5 years of the Modi government.

There have been attempts to declassify saltpans into a wetland in order to benefit builders who have been eyeing these regions so as to develop affordable houses. However environmental activists have warned that such actions could damage these saltpan regions which are the last remaining open area of land in these urban areas and act as a natural buffer during heavy rains and prevent flooding.

The cutting of trees in the Aarey forests is yet another environmental blunder made in the name of development. Adding to the atrocities, the ex-post-facto clearance route in the draft Environmental Impact Assessment notification if implemented can weaken the regulations over the industrial processes. This new notification also shortens the time for the public to react over any of the upcoming local projects and it can actually give strong relaxation to industries and business houses to freely perform their economic activities without churning the environmental clearance papers.

While India is way behind reaching the average level of biodiversity protection and pollution check in comparison to the world standards, such leniency and gaucherie from the side of authorities can only further deteriorate the existing state of Indian biodiversity. The Western Ghats, which forms most of the Goa, have been recognised as one of the biodiversity hotspots in the world.

Though Goa is the smallest state in India by land, it carries special importance in the realm of diverse flora and fauna of India. With bamboo canes, Maratha barks, chillar barks and the bhirand being some of the most important forest products Goa carries major importance in India’s pursuits to create healthy biodiversity.

Image: Twitter/@SaveMollemCampaign


While the debate over “Environment vs Development” is heating up and human needs are slowly been materialised, the contribution of nature towards human survival cannot be overlooked. There is a need to be clear on our priorities. Civil society needs to have increased participation in the decision-making processes. There is a need to make education nature sensitive and climate-sensitive.

At last, if we want our next generation to breathe, we need to speak. There is a need for common citizens to be aware of the current happenings and mishappenings in the frontier of climate protection and preservation. With India charging up to reach the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 15, it needs evenly stringent government policies that affirmingly stand for social and environmental wellbeing of the people evenly enough as they stand for the economic wellbeing of the nation.

Featured image source: Image: Twitter/@SaveMollemCampaign
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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