If there is one thing keeping Gina Pereira up at night, it is the future of Mollem National Park – a lush, leafy and largely unspoiled forest straddling the borders of Goa and Karnataka states along India’s Western Ghats, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site.
One day, however, she fears the protected forest will be desecrated as an estimated 60,000 trees will be cut to make way for three infrastructure projects cutting through it.
Coal and the corporations
Since October last year, Pereira, along with local groups including Chicalim Youth Farmers Club, Goyant Kollso Naka (Goans Against Coal), and Goencho Ekvott (The People’s Movement), have led several protests across Goan cities, drawing nearly 3,000 concerned citizens, academics and conservationists.
Environmentalists have repeatedly warned of an unfolding catastrophe facing the fragile forest and its unique biodiversity if the projects are implemented. The projects also threaten to destroy livelihoods and heritage homes – some of which were built nearly 200 years ago and are a testimony to the culture and colonial history of Goa, a former Portuguese colony.
Pereira says the village locals were uninformed about the projects from their inception and accused the government of “sacrificing Goa’s biodiversity” to profit from cheap fossil fuels.
Most of the residents’ fury is directed towards the Adani Group – the largest coal producer in the region – whose chairman and founder, Gautam Adani, is close to the governing BJP.
“The governments (federal and state) is widely seen as being owned by the Adani corporate empire,” says Claude Alvares, director of Goa Foundation, one of the state’s oldest environmental action groups.
Residents say the Adani Group will transport coal from Australia to the steel plants in Karnataka and Maharashtra states through Goa’s Mormugao Port Trust (MPT), built in the 19th century.
Other corporations set to benefit are Jindal and Vedanta. In 2018, the MPT granted Adani and Jindal 50-percent waivers on the port charges. The Vedanta Group’s Sesa Sterlite is involved in the power transmission line project.
Max D’souza, member of Villagers Action Committee Against Double Tracking (VACAD), said the corporations will use their designated coal berths at MPT to enhance coal transport. “Goans will see no benefit from these projects, except destruction,” he said.