Church accused of ‘playing politics’ in Rail Development projects in Goa: says Town & Country Planning Minister

Goa Minister claims Church is involving in undue politics and periodically raking up issues beyond its jurisdiction, thwarting Govt’s efforts of Rail Development works in the region. “In a country where Railways run Special Trains for Christian festivals in different parts of states, it is unfortunate that Church is playing such politics”, said the Minister. 

VASCO: Villagers in Goa state have started a hunger strike against environmental policies amid accusations that the Catholic Church supports such protests. They started the hunger strike on May 9 as part of their opposition to the Planning and Development Authority (PDA), which they claim is implementing a regional plan to take over farmland and water bodies in several villages to develop railways and tourism projects threatening the environment.

“Under the garb of the plan, officials help Railways, Tourism and other Departments to occupy private and public land such as beach fronts. The state government helps the tourism lobby take over village land and river fronts,” said Avertino Miranda, an environmental activist. On April 27, about 2,000 people marched through the state capital demanding the PDA scrap the plan. The state’s Town and Country Planning Ministry, which held a crucial meeting on May 16, developed the regional plan purportedly to rationalize use of land in the smallest state, which is facing a land crunch for infrastructure and housing projects, he said.

Villagers are demanding denotification of all villages listed by the PDA for land acquisition and an amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act restoring power to villagers in the planning process, said protest convener Arturo Dsouza who told that people’s opposition increased after government officers started taking over private and public lands for Railways, Industry and Tourism development.

As protests increased last month, two videos went viral on social media claiming that the Catholic Church in Goa has opposed all development projects including Railway schemes of national importance, such as Kulem-Margao Track Doubling undertaken by South Western Railway.

In the Detailed Project Report titled “Master Plan for Mormugao” prepared for the Central Ministry of Shipping, published in August 2016, the Railways had sanctioned grants for doubling the 300km track running from Vasco da Gama (Mormugao Port Trust MPT) to Hospet in Karnataka a few years ago. In order to initiate the process, land acquisitions are required. Known as Project Goa, it comes under the supervision of Rail Vikas Nigam Limited, a Government of India enterprise.

The railway doubling project, according to the report, is part of Mormugao Port Trust development plan, to increase its capacity of handling and carriage of cargo, a majority of which is coal. The 40-km railway stretch between Kulem and Margao passes through 11 villages. A mix of private and government land is required from these villages. As of November 24, 2017, they require a total of 23,888 sq mts of government land, and 64,799 sq mts of private land between Kulem and Margao.

Railway officials said while the land acquisitions are in different stages under the Land Acquisition Act 2013, out of the 11 villages, the strongest dissent is seen from the village of Sao Jose de Areal. They say if the Land Acquisition Act doesn’t work, they will apply Section 20A of Railways Act 1989 to acquire the required land. As of November 24, 2017, they have confirmed that they require 3338 sq mts plus 7183 sq mts of additional land in Sao Jose de Areal. On September 27, they came to the village to take measurements, but were sent back by the residents, who formed a violent crowd around the officers.

With the Railways having acquired 60 per cent of land required for doubling the tracks, the Hubli Division of South Western Railway has made good headway in Karnataka. In Goa, the acquisition is at different stages for the requirement of 10 hectares — spread like a strip alongside the existing track — along 64 km between Vasco and Kulem.

“We have started laying tracks at regions where we have acquired the land. We are looking at three years for the entire process and execution,” says  a South Western Railway official, with a large rail map spread out on the official’s table, says, “For us, Goa is Vasco”.

“It’s all about scale,” says G P Rai, Deputy Chairman, Mormugao Port Trust. “They (Goans) have been thoroughly misguided. We are stressing on railway evacuation as it is the cleanest evacuation corridor.” At Seraulim, the church is on the other side of the railway crossing. Traffic has stopped for a passenger train, a cargo train will follow. The wagons divide a village, holding everything to ransom. Residents say that during Sunday mass, even a single train crossing can delay their church visit. That is five minutes of mass missed, they say, and with 30 trains a day, that is an entire mass gone. “The Church even stops the ceremony every few minutes as the trains pass. Nobody looks into these facts on the ground. These things are very important to us,” says Elvis Coutinho, 51.

Seraulim, which opposed the Konkan Railways project in 1992-1993, is also where the biggest resistance against the doubling of tracks for coal is taking shape. In 1993, the government issued a shoot-at-sight order against protesters. The Railways won.

Horticulturist Rodney Almeida, 67, whose house is 70 metres from the tracks, says “as a horticulturist, I am always surrounded with greenery” says Almeida. At the other end of the track is the house of retired banker Vincente Fernandes, 62, a veteran of the Konkan Railway agitation. “We will have to agitate again. We are not talking of one more train. The doubling of tracks means, 20-30 trains more. There is no access to our homes, no bridges to walk to the other side, no roads made friendly for us,” he says. With the South Western Railway team trying to survey his compound, Vincente is always on guard.

According to Chapter 4 – Notification and Acquisition of the Land Acquisition Act 2013, “Whenever, it appears to the appropriate Government that land in any area is required or likely to be required for any public purpose, a notification (hereinafter referred to as preliminary notification) to that effect along with details of the land to be acquired in rural and urban areas and shall also be published in the newspapers.

In an interview on October 15, the village Sarpanch Perrys D’Costa stated that the Collectorate officials did not come through the Panchayat for consent. “They got someone to help them to identify the houses and just went in and asked people to sign the forms. They should not have done that,” he said. “We are totally opposing all kinds of work on the railways,” says Fidelis Fredy Travasso, 45. Fondly known as Fredy, he is a native of the village and member of the Village Development Committee of the Village Panchayat. “We have two railway lines crossing through our village   the South West Railway and the Konkan Railway. None of these have been of any real benefit to us,” he said.

However he doesn’t realise the fact that national long distance railway tracks passes through various villages in different states and Government is has de-jure powers to intimate and acquire lands for the development of largest parts of the nation, not just a village.

Apart from double tracking, a railway by-link connecting Konkan Railway to South Western, a railway platform and a railway yard construction is also under consideration in the village. “The South West Railway was never supposed to pass through our village anyway. It was supposed to go through Navelim, according to the Regional Plan of 2001. But politicians had their way,” he said. “We did not have much knowledge then. Things are very different now,” he said.

It is also alleged that the church of striking a secret deal with the Congress party to destabilize the state government run by Bharatiya Janata Party. Town and Country Planning Minister Vijay Sardesai told media that protesters were making “anarchic demands.” He also accused the church of “playing politics to destabilize the government today, led by the BJP.” In a country where Railways run Special Trains for christian festivals in different parts of various states of India, it is unfortunate that Church is playing such politics, said the Minister. The South Central Railway runs some 50 Special Trains for Mary Matha festival in Andhra Pradesh, and more than 100 Special Trains are run by South Central, Southern and South Western Railways for passengers proceeding to the Velankanni church in Tamil Nadu for the festival.” he said, adding that it is ridiculous to witness that Church is directly involving now in thwarting the Railway development projects in Goa. A lot of trains also run between Vasco-da-Gama and Velankanni during the festival season, and we are really hard to digest that such a place of religious importance in involving in such low politics. “India is not a country for religious institutions either directly or indirectly involving in politics and dictate terms at their whims and fancies”, he said.

JSW responds: ‘High standards of environmental compliance’

JSW does not undertake road transportation for its cargo. All cargo moves by covered rakes only. As a measure to control pollution, we innovated a unique feature to cover these rakes as the cargo is loaded from the silo.

JSW maintains high standards of environmental compliance. We were the first company in India to implement fully-covered operations with a giant shed of 105m x 450 m x 52 m at our port in Jaigarh. We are in the process of establishing a 125 m x 275 m covered shed at our berths in Mormugao Port, Goa, as an additional pollution control measure. The shed is currently awaiting necessary regulatory approvals.

Adani responds: ‘We take utmost care to preserve environment, comply with rules’

About 80 per cent of cargo is transported through mechanised wagon loading systems and the rakes are covered prior to departure from port thereby ensuring full-fledged check on pollution while the rake is enroute to its destination.

About 20 per cent of the cargo is dispatched by road through mechanised truck loading system, each truck is covered and thoroughly washed after loading, and even the undercarriage is washed to ensure a clean dispatch by road.

Furthermore, regular patrols are carried out by the port team to check for any spillage on road during transportation and react in real time thereby ensuring negligible spillage incidents.

We take utmost care to preserve the environment and comply with all the applicable rules and regulations.

Our cargo yards have all round retaining walls and cargo is stored in covered condition, with regular automatic yard sprinkler system to ensure dust suppression, firefighting system for emergency usage, dry fog system at all cargo transfer points for dust free cargo transfer, automatic truck and wheel washing system, a portable mist canon system, water tanker with road sprinkler, tractor mounted road sweeping machine, windscreens and green belt around the yards and jetty gate.

These systems are benchmark technologies that we have in the entire Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd portfolio.

VEDANTA responds: ‘Not using port for coal handling’

Vedanta is not using the Mormugao Port berth for any coal handling. We are importing 0.75 Mt per annum for our in-house consumption and not for sale. We are not handling coal at MPT land, so no question of creating any dust pollution. It is directly unloaded from mother ship to barges mid sea and the same are being unloaded at the plant. Moreover, the moisture in coal is 10%, which doesn’t allow any dust generation. As a responsible organisation, we abide by all norms and regulatory compliance.