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“This Protest Was The Last Resort”: When 5000 People Came Out To Save Mollem In Goa

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Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park are beautiful moist deciduous forests that are located in the western ghats and fall within the Sanguem taluka in Goa. They are home to 722 species of flowering plants, 235 species of bird, 219 species of butterfly, 80 species of ordinate, 75 species of ant, 45 species of reptile, 27 species of amphibian, 44 species of fish and many more beautiful creatures that make up the rich tapestry of life that inhabits these protected wildlife areas.

The Western Ghats are one of the eight biological hotspots in the world. Often referred to as the great escarpment of India, It is a shining gem of India’s natural history. It is home to many endangered species including those falling within Schedule 1 and 2 endangered animals such as the tiger, mouse deer and Indian Pangolin.

During the 57th meeting of the standing committee of the National Board of wildlife, three projects were approved that threaten these beautiful and diverse wild spaces. These include a 400 Kv transmission line, double-tracking a rail line that connects Hospet to Vasco and four laning of the NH 4A highway.

We stand to lose over 55,000 trees and over 202 Ha of forested land, 156.412 Ha of which lies within the protected area.

Image: Twitter/@SaveMollemGoa

The #SaveMollem Protest

Over the last few months, Goans have been protesting these projects. Everyone from scientists and conservation biologists to young people are pointing out the inconsistencies and flaws in the environmental assessment using social media to spread awareness. Petitions were started and letters were sent to government officials. The people of Goa are calling out the government for approving such projects over lockdown and so hastily.

Over 150 scientists have written letters to the government explaining that these projects are detrimental to the environment and shouldn’t have been approved, also bringing to light that the substation in Sangod of the 400Kv transmission line violates a 2015 Supreme Court order that states that if a particular piece of land over 1 Ha has a canopy density 0.1 or above, then the trees must not be cut. The area in question is 11 Ha with a canopy density of 0.7 and although the project is now on hold, 2760 trees have already been cut.

With the government ignoring the backlash of these projects from the Goan people and news of the Panchayat approving work to start on the railway tracks in Chandor on the night of November 1, the people of Goa decided that something must be done.

Two organisations Goyant Kollso Naka and Goencho Ekvott organised the protest which by all accounts was completely peaceful. An estimated 5000 people turned up for the protest. It started at 10 pm next to the Chandor church which is close to the tracks. People told the workers not to start the work and then proceeded to lie down on the tracks to block work from being done. People sang folk songs, played the drums, gave speeches, and even danced.

Approximately at 1 am, the deputy collector came and asked protestors to vacate the site. Protestors agreed to leave the site after giving a written notice saying that construction would be suspended. Letters were also submitted to the Panchayat asking that the permission be revoked which is still pending, however, on November 5, the South Western railways decided to postpone construction at Davorlim (the next site) till further notice. Despite the protest being peaceful, an FIR was filed against the protestors for unlawful assembly and rioting. Goans have retaliated to this by using the #ArrestMeToo hashtag on social media to show their support.

“It was a really peaceful protest. I thought it was very inventive the way they used folk songs and drums to combine Goa’s protests history and festivals celebrated like Shigmo and carnival. It was also a desperate attempt by people who have tried so many ways of approaching the government. There have been so many letters opposing the projects sent to the government and it has all fallen on deaf ears. This protest was the last resort and we came out in a pandemic even though it puts us and our families at risk”, said conservation biologist Gabriella D’cruz.

“Chandor protest against double-tracking of the Southwestern railways of Goa was HUGE. There were easily more than 5000 people gathered, standing in solidarity with the aim of protecting Goa’s green heritage. The rally started with the head of Goyant Kollso Naka, Abhijeet Prabhudessai addressing the crowd. By the end of the speech, the crowd erupted to the chants of “Amka naka, tumka naka, Goyant kollso konak naka”. 

Adrenaline was building up to the beats of the drums and the slogans. People had gathered with creative candle lights with a paper holder of #GoyantKollsoNaka. As we walked towards the tracks from the church, we came across locals moving ahead – dancing to the tunes of a song, demonstrating the kunbi folk dance. As we reached the tracks, we saw that hordes of people had sat on the tracks, shouting out slogans and giving speeches, bringing out vibes of hope and unity.

The police did try to diffuse the tension but alas, the crowd did not relent. They stood firm on their ground and decided that they won’t move until justice was delivered. People – young and old – created an atmosphere that was energized! The night was young and lively. This event is definitely going down in history”, said Mithila Prabhudesai, a student activist.

These three projects will be extremely harmful to the environment and if executed, they will stray Goa away from being a tourist destination towards becoming a coal hub. The Sagarmala plan outlines an expansion of the Mormugao port trust which is used by many companies like Jindal steel and the Adani to move coal from other parts of the world to India. Currently, Goa moves 12 million tonnes of coal per year and this plan outlines that by 2035, Goa will move 51 million tonnes. Highways and railways will be expanded to move this coal into the hinterlands to build more power plants in different parts of India.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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