Left-wing NGOs and media have now targeted three important infrastructure development projects in Goa, alleging harm to wildlife. The three projects are: expansion of national highway 4-A, construction of transmission line, and doubling of the existing Railway line, which is being opposed by the activists. It is alleged that the projects will hamper the wildlife in the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park in Mollem. Now, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has chosen to join the protests in Goa against the govt sanctions projects, which led to an open spat between him and Goa CM Pramod Sawant.
This all began when on 9th November, Arvind Kejriwal hailed the protesters in Goa for their efforts to save the environment, and condemned the Goa govt for muzzling the protests and lodging FIRs.
Reacting to the comments of Kejriwal, Goa CM Sawant had told reporters on Wednesday that the Delhi CM should first fix the pollution problem in Delhi before worried about Goa. After this, the Delhi reacted to the Goa CM’s tweet, quoting a tweet by Goa News Hub carrying the Sawant’s comments. He Kejriwal said that it is not about Delhi’s pollution vs Goa’s pollution, and they will have to work together to ensure that there is no pollution in both Delhi and Goa.
However, Sawant was happy with this reply, and he said that Goa govt is ensuring that there is no pollution in Goa. The Delhi CM used this to once against oppose the projects, and asked the Goa CM to hear the voices of the protesters. He also said that he understand that the centre is forcing the project on the Goans, and asked Sawant to say NO to the centre and save Goa from becoming a coal hub.
Pramod Sawant strongly reacted to this tweet, rejecting the claim that the projects are being forced by centre on Goa. He said that the doubling of Railway tracks is a nation building exercise, and said that there is no threat to Mollem from the project. He also ensured that they will not allow Goa to become a coal hub.
Interestingly, Sawant also slammed Kejriwal for trying to created a rift between centre and Goa govt. “Knowing your expertise in creating Center vs State issues, we will skip your advice,” he tweeted.
But Kejriwal still insisted that the project is being forced by the union govt, and asked the Goa govt to oppose the projects.
Uncontrolled Delhi pollution
While the Kejriwal worried about the environment in Goa, and asking the Goa govt stop a major project to protect it, he himself has failed to protect the environment in Delhi. Delhi has seen record levels of pollutions this year, and the state govt failed to take steps in advance to combat the situation, despite the fact that it is well known that Delhi is hit by severe pollution during this period.
Arvind Kejriwal has claimed that stubble burning is the biggest source of air pollution, and said that he can’t do anything about it as the burning takes places in neighbouring states. He has blamed the CMs of those states for inability to end the menace, while completely ignoring other sources of air pollution.
In fact, he had a war of word with Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar, who said that stubble burning contributes only 4% of air pollution in Delhi. Kejriwal responded to it by saying that staying in denial will not help, and claimed that stubble burning is the only reason of spike in air pollution levels. According to an IIT Kanpur study done in 2015, almost 70% of pollution in Delhi is the result of local sources, like road dust, vehicles, domestic sources. Therefore, stubble is not the single largest source as claimed by the Delhi CM.
Due to refusal to acknowledge the real problem, the Delhi govt has been unable to control pollution, despite taking several initiatives. The govt had launched a ‘Green War Room’ ion October, and had announced several measures, like monitoring satellite images, intensive anti-dust drive, installation of anti-smog guns, action plan for 13 pollution hotspots in Delhi, etc. But none of these have worked, and the AQI level was 999 at several places in Delhi, which is the maximum reading the devices can measure. Which means, the exact level of pollution is not known as the the pollution level more than the what the devices used to check AQI can measure.
Other than banning firecrackers, and arresting traders who had stocked ‘green-firecrackers’ after the Delhi govt had issued licenses, there is no major step to combat the severe air pollution in the city-state. While Arvind Kejriwal argues with Goa CM to stop the track doubling project, he has been unable to convince his neighbouring state Punjab to stop stubble burning by farmers, which he claims is the main source of air pollution during this period.
It is not sure how Arvind Kejriwal proposes to combat pollution in Delhi and Goa together, two states located almost 2000 kms away, with completely different environments.
Lies about the doubling project
The project includes double-lining of railway tracks between Hospet in Karnataka and Vasco da Gama in Goa. Work 252 km of the total 342 km has already been completed, and of the remaining 90 km, 70 km lies in Goa. The need for the infrastructure projects was generated by the inability to introduce 24 coach length passenger trains due to the existing length of platforms and others concerns.
Activists and some local population have opposed the project over concerns of harm to the national park, damage to heritage buildings, damage to environment due to increased transportation of coal etc. It is also claimed that High Court has stayed the project, and there is a Railway board order to stop work on it. Another claim is that Railways has not sought permission from village permission.
But the Railway ministry has rejected the concerns, and said that the local public is being misled by those with vested interests. The existing single line track has been in existence for over a century, which was completed in 1905. The line passes through the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National park. But railways occupy only 0.869 square km of land in the park, opposed to the total area of 240 sq km of the sanctuary. Thus, Railways occupies a negligible 0.36% of area of the Wildlife Sanctuary.
Furthermore, the Railway has already conducted an Environment Impact Assessment Survey through IISC, Bangalore, one of the most prestigious institutes in the country and it has been scrutinized by the Forest Department and Ministry of Environment as well. With a view towards permitting safe crossing for animals in the area, 5 new under passes and 3 new over passes are planned for construction along with doubling which are not currently available on the existing single line track.
Ministry has also confirmed that not a single heritage building will be demolished for the track doubling project. Govt is also reducing import of coal, therefore coal transportation is not likely to increase on the track.
Railways have also confirmed that it is a lie that High Court has stayed the project, as the matter is yet to be taken up by court for hearing, and no stay has been granted. Similarly, the claim of Railway Board order to stop work is also a lie. The ministry has also said that as per law it does not require approval from any local body or village panchayats as the project is being implemented on land already owned by Railways.