The citizens of Goa took to the streets in the first week of November to protest against specific infrastructure projects in the state. The projects are aimed at transforming Goa into a coal transportation hub. It has become a highly debated topic, and Goans have pleaded to their representatives to take serious action against protecting their areas. This very project could ultimately lead to the destruction of their biodiversity. The protestors have also alleged that three major companies will benefit from the project. 

Let us understand the specific details regarding this project, and find out what led to the massive protests in the state.

  1. The Sagarmala Project
  2. Why are Goans Protesting?
  3. What Happened Amid Protests?
  4. Allegations Against Listed Companies
  5. Which is the Right Way?

The Sagarmala Project

The root cause of this problem goes way back to 2016. During that period, the Central Government had approved a proposal to initiate the Sagarmala Project. This is a flagship programme of the Ministry of Shipping to promote port-led development. A primary feature of this project was to convert Goa into a coal transportation corridor. The project includes double-tracking the Hospet-Vasco rail line, creating a flyover, and constructing nine jetties along the Zuari and Mandovi rivers. It also includes four-laning of the NH-4A highway, which connects Belgaum and Goa.

Under this plan, the Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) in Goa will become a coal/coke import hub with a projected capacity of 51 MTPA (million tonnes per annum). An important factor to be noted here is that Adani Ports & Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Ltd. has a one-birth terminal (Berth 7) in MPT. The Adani Mormugao Port Terminal Pvt. Ltd. (AMPTPL) Terminal is a fully mechanized coal handling facility. 

Why are Goans Protesting?

As we know, Goa is a dream holiday destination for tourists all around the world. It is known for its beaches, colonial architecture, and most importantly, its stunning monsoon greenery. There is no doubt that the infrastructure projects mentioned above will cause widespread disruption to its rich biodiversity.

It has been found that construction of the road and railway projects could lead to 59,000 trees being cut in Goa. The projects are also likely to cause a loss of 170 hectares of protected forest land in Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park. Reports have also stated that the projects would also destroy one of the last tiger landscapes in India.

The citizens of Goa and other environmental activists are very concerned about the destruction of Goa’s biodiversity. They believe that the cost of completely disrupting the environment cannot be justified for transforming Goa into a coal hub. Students, lawyers, scientists, and activists had written to the government to take necessary steps to ensure that Goa’s ecology is protected. They had begun protests towards the end of October, but Goa’s state government initially downplayed the whole situation. 

An interesting fact to be pointed out is that the protestors have come out with creative ways to show their dissent. On November 1, more than 5,000 locals gathered at Chandol village in the Western Ghats to dance and sing in solidarity with the forests. However, the peaceful protests by Goans have been dismissed by the government as “politically motivated by outsiders”.

What Happened Amid Protests?

The protests gained a large response through social media and other platforms. Soon after, the Goa Government came up with certain concrete steps to address the problems faced by its citizens. The state’s environment minister Nilesh Cabral has stated that the government will introduce a capping mechanism for the import of coal into the state. He stated that nearly 10-12 million tonnes of coal is imported annually, and this level will not be increased. Goa’s Chief Minister Pramod Sawant will provide documentary proof to the people of Goa to underline the government’s intent  of limiting coal imports

“There is an apprehension in the minds of the people of Goa and expats across the world, that more coal will be imported into Goa. Goa will not be a coal hub at all” – Nilesh Cabral, Goa’s Environment Minister.

Allegations Against Listed Companies

The citizens of Goa have pointed out that three major companies would highly benefit from these projects. The companies include Adani, Vedanta, and JSW Group. It has been reported that projections of Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) for the year 2030 states that they are ready to import nearly 51.6 million tonnes of coal for these three companies. The Adani Group, JSW Steel, and Vedanta have separate terminals/berths to handle this imported coal. And, most of it will be transported through Goa to other states of India.

Despite these allegations against the company, we can see that shares of Adani Ports have been on a continuous uptrend. On November 5, the Group denied claims from politicians and activists that they would benefit from the projects. In a statement, the Group said that “politically motivated groups” are behind the ongoing protests in Goa. They have also stated that the company’s share at MPT is just 10%, whereas 90% is for the remaining companies.

Shares of Adani Ports & SEZ Ltd currently trading near its new 52-week high.

On November 24, the Goa Government issued a demand notice to JSW Steel Ltd to pay Rs 156.34 crore for the transportation of coal. The company has been directed to pay the amount towards the Goa Rural Improvement and Welfare Cess within 15 days. JSW Steel has moved the Bombay High Court challenging the applicability of this government order.

Which is the Right Way?

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, thousands of Goan citizens have been marching on the streets to protest against these massive projects. The power of social media has also created a huge positive impact on this issue. Many ‘netizens’ took to social media on Sunday (November 15) in a planned tweet-storm to highlight #SaveMollem. The environmental impact would not just affect Goa, but also its neighboring state of Karnataka. At the same time, the protests do not seem to impact the operations and future plans of companies such as Adani Group and Vedanta. 

Are such infrastructure projects essential at a time when India and global economies should be transforming towards renewable energy sources? More importantly, the main cost of cutting down trees and destroying biodiversity is not truly justified for such projects. It is the people of Goa who ultimately suffer from it. 

Let us look forward to seeing how the Government would further address the issues of Goans. Will the concerned ministers keep their promises? Or, will the companies mentioned above get away from these allegations and make more profits? We will have to wait and watch.