Amid opposition from environmentalists and residents, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF) has issued clearances for the diversion of 140 hectares of forest land for the South Western Railway's double-tracking project in south Goa.
The project will cut through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mollem National Park.
On February 4, the MoEF granted an in-principle approval or stage-1 clearance for the diversion of 120.87 hectares of forest land for double-tracking between Castlerock railway station in north Karnataka to Kulem railway station in south Goa in a letter to the Goa Principal Secretary (Forests).
Two more clearances were issued for the diversion of 1.90 hectares of private forest and 15.6 hectares of forest land in south Goa for double-tracking between Kulem and Margaon railway stations.
Three linear projects — the double-tracking project, the four-laning of a national highway, and the Goa-Yanmar transmission power project — have been opposed by the environmentalists.
According to the environmentalists, the projects could devastate forests in the Western Ghats on a large scale, offering no benefits to local people, The Indian Express reported.
Claude Alvares, Director, Goa Foundation, claimed that the Central clearances would be legally opposed.
Alvares said that there was a huge uproar last year to protect Mollem, and, unfortunately, the government is disregarding the voice of its citizens.
''The environment is sacrificed first and then the economy. But we will keep fighting, and we will keep protesting,'' he said.
The Goa Foundation has been at the forefront of the 'Save Mollem' movement, which gained popularity last year after forest land was diverted.
"Despite the ecological and socio-economic devastation this initiative would bring to the state, the irony is that the people who are legitimately elected to protect the fabric of our environment are the same people who are granting such clearances amid the groundswell opposition," said Captain Viriato Fernandes, Convenor of NGO Goencho Avaaz, which declared its political foray on Sunday.
Within three years of final approval for the scheme, the MoEF has specified that at least 1,000 trees per hectare must be planted as compensatory afforestation over established degraded forest property.
Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said at a recent event that the linear schemes were being carried out with the future of Goa in mind.
"Many people disagree only to oppose. They have no idea what this initiative is about, and they are stubborn about not following anyone else's orders. They oppose only to politicise the problem,'' the minister added.