Withdraw virtual clearance given to two projects in Goa’s wildlife sanctuary: NAPM

The two projects – a highway and a transmission line were given environmental clearance and are set to affect the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats and Bhagawan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary


While the country is seeing a massive surge in cases of the coronavirus infection, it has come to light that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is using the pandemic as an express tool to issue clearances for various infrastructural and industrial projects. Tribal homes and a community forest were demolished in Odisha, commercial coal mining was opened up in Jharkhand and permission for mining in the reserve area of the Dehing-Patkai wildlife sanctuary was given during the lockdown.

Virtual clearance for project

At the 57th meeting of the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wild Life that was held on April 7, 2020 through video conference, the Union Minister of MoEFCC, Prakash Javadekar issued virtual clearances for two projects passing through the Bhagawan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park in Goa. The two projects are – a four lane highway and laying of a 400 KV transmission line in the ecologically sensitive region. Environmentalists have been crying hoarse since last year over these approvals as these are bound to directly impact the biodiversity of the Western Ghats, which is considered as one of the most important tiger habitats in the world.

Importance of the sanctuary and Western Ghats

The Bhagawan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, which contains within itself the Mollem National Park is situated on the eastern border of Goa, with Karnataka 53 kilometers away from Panaji and 54 kilometers away from Margao. It covers 240 sq. km and contains the Dudhsagar Falls and its parkland is home to a community of nomadic buffalo herders. This forest is part of the Western Ghats, which is one of the 8 biodiversity hotspots of the world and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. All three projects require diversion of forest land from this single protected area.

The sanctuary is said to be home to 722 species of flowering plants, 128 species of plants that are endemic to the Western Ghats, 235 species of birds, 219 butterfly species, 70 mammal species among other flora and fauna. It has also recorded the presence of tigers, mouse deer, gaur, Indian Pangolin and vulnerable species like small-clawed otters and the four-horned antelope. The forests also contain sacred groves that have been protected by locals for centuries and are of tremendous cultural importance.

In light of this, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has issued a statement calling for the review of the projects and requesting the Supreme Court to direct mandatory compliance of the recommendations in the Western Ghats Expert Panel Report.

Expressing serious concerns over the two projects, the signatories – Medha Patkar (Narmada Bachao Andolan), Dayamani Barla (Adivasi Moolvasi Astitva Raksha Samiti), Prafulla Samantara (Lok Shakti Abhiyan), Kavita Srivastava (PUCL) among many others from rights organizations all over the country, also mentioned that the government was considering a third project related to the double tracking of the railway line passing through the sanctuary and national park. It said, “The three projects would require cutting down over 50,000 trees and diversion of 216 hectares of forest and private land. This venture would also put the water-security of over 16 lakh Goans in jeopardy as the projects would cut across the River Ragada, a tributary of Mhadei! It has become a practice for project proponents to obtain ‘piece meal clearances’, while these three linear projects, situated within the same protected area need a rigorous cumulative impact assessment. It is a sad reflection on the state of environmental governance that the MoEFCC and NBWL overlook these crucial statutory requirements.”

The highway requires the felling of 12,097 trees, the transmission line requires the felling of 4,146 trees and the railway line needs 20,758 trees to be cleared.

NAPM stated that the forests have fresh water streams that feed the main rivers, including Goa’s lifeline, the river Mandovi which is the state’s major source of potable water and irrigation facilities. The river also aids travel of people and goods and supports ancestral livelihoods. The area was also marked as an Ecologically Sensitive Area by the Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP) in 2011 that was appointed by the very same Ministry that has now given ‘permission’ to speed up its destruction! The WGEEP (Madhav Gadgil Committee) submitted an elaborate Report to MoEF, calling for restrictions on damaging activities like mining, quarrying and red-category industries in the Western Ghats.

NAPM is concerned that the projects will not only cause loss to wildlife, but also humans as the Ghats are not topographically too steep to be suited for such projects. They have been decimated before due to relentless mining and by the Tilari dam which has led to the loss of elephant habitats. It also says that the expansion of the highway on one side and the double tracking of the South Western Railways will leave the southern part disconnected from the northern part leading to the deaths of tigers and other animals who may come under the vehicles while trying to cross over.

A petition filed in the Supreme Court by environmentalists and concerned citizens sought the implementation of the recommendations of the WGEEP. On June 18, the SC took cognizance and issued notices to the Centre and the six states in the Western Ghats region i.e. Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The petition foregrounds the fact that the significant recommendations of the WGEEP remain un-implemented even a decade later and almost 250 million people are directly and indirectly bound to be affected by adverse ‘developmental’ interventions in the region.

Recommendations by NAPM

Seeing the scant regards for the evidence put forth by naturalists and the virtual clearances given without the comprehensive site specific scrutiny, examination of documents and opinions of stakeholders, NAPM urges the Centre, MoEFCC and the State Government to reconsider its model of ‘development’ and immediately re-assess the need for all such projects, which come at a huge environmental and human cost.

It also demands that the approvals for the two projects be withdrawn immediately and that no clearance be granted to the double tracking of the railway line passing through the sanctuary. Apart from this, NAPM demands that the state and Central governments reassess all the infrastructure projects underway in the Western Ghats and impose a moratorium on those that are likely to jeopardize the environment as per the WGEEP report.

NAPM also demands that the environmental clearances being given during the lockdown be completely halted and clearances given be withdrawn and the Central government reconsider its environmental policy and withdraw the EIA Amendments, 2020 especially when our people are suffering due to Covid-19, a pandemic greatly tied to the environmental degradation.

The full statement by NAPM may be read below.



Pollution Control Board Assam issues closure notice to Oil India Limited over Baghjan fire

Environmentalists decry revival of controversial Athirappilly Hydel Project by Kerala G’ovt

 Odisha Forest Department cuts down traditional trees, destroys livelihood of forest workers

 Illegal mining in proposed reserve forest in Assam comes to light after 16 years




Related Articles