There are three infrastructure projects that threaten the forests in and around Mollem National Park and Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary.
#SaveMollem is the hashtag you must have come across if you are a part of Indian Twitter. There have been several pages emerging on social media to raise voice and gather support in favour of their cause. But what is Mollem? Why does it need to be saved? Who does it need to be saved from?
HW News was among the first few networks to have reported the Mollem story, even before the issue started gaining traction on social media. In a compilation of stories of forests and national parks which are under the threat of deforestation, we had also included the issue of Mollem national park.
What Is #SaveMollem Campaign?
There are three infrastructure projects that threaten the forests in and around Mollem National Park and Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary. In the middle of the lock-down, the National Board for Wildlife cleared or discussed more than 30 forest clearance proposals. Of these, 3 projects from Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary/Mollem National Park, Goa were cleared virtually by the National Board for Wildlife.
The projects are as follows:
- Double tracking the railway line: This project requires a total of 138.37 hectares of forest land. The total number of trees to be felled are 22,882; of which 20,758 will be felled from the protected area. The cost of this project is reportedly estimated at Rs 504 crore.
- Four-lane highway expansion: 63.615 hectares of forest land will be required for this project. The total number of trees to be felled are 20,340; of which 12,097 trees will be felled from the protected area. The project will reportedly cost Rs 1794 crore.
- Laying a 400kv transmission line: 48.3 Hectares of total forest land is required for this project. The total number of trees to be felled are 15,772; of which 4139 trees will be felled from the protected area. The project is likely to cost Rs 176.8 crore.
According to the leaders of this campaign, there have been six proposals submitted (two forest clearance proposals for NH-4A; three forest clearance proposals for railways and one proposal for the transmission line) which amount to a diversion of 250.285 hectares where 59,024 trees will be felled in and around Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park. Specifically, with respect to the protected area, 170 hectares are planned for forest diversion. To help you visualise, a hectare is roughly 1 ½ times the size of an average football field.
Why Is Mollem Important?
According to the activists taking part in protests against these projects, the Western Ghats, of which Goa’s largest protected area is a part, are 150 million years old. They are older than the Himalayas. The forests are completely irreplaceable, says the Campaign’s citizen toolkit.
There are only 36 biodiversity hotspots in the world and the forests of the Western Ghats is one of them.
Goa lacks land and resources to carry out compensatory afforestation on such a scale. One mature tree absorbs around 22 kilos of CO2 each year, while a young tree can only absorb 6 kilos/ year. Felling 59,000 trees will create a massive impact in this regard.
These forests streams feed Goa’s lifeline – River Mandovi – the foremost source of potable water.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report 2019 found that the Western Ghats is one of the most resilient ecosystems to climate change when they did a 1.5 degree impact assessment. This is extremely important as very few ecosystems are resilient to climate change and global warming). Maintaining the integrity of the Western Ghats allows Goa to have better adaptation strategies to deal with climate change.
Hundreds of wildlife species including Schedule-I & Schedule-II endangered species such as the tiger (Panthera tigris), dhole (Cuon alpinus), mouse deer (Moschiola indica), gaur (Bos gaurus), and Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) will be threatened.
The sanctuary is also home to more than 70 mammal species, 235 bird species, 219 butterfly species, 44 fish species, 45 reptile species, 27 amphibian species, 80 odonate species, 75 ant species, 721 plant species, at least 43 fungi species and 18 lichen species. Many of which are endemic (i.e not found anywhere else in the world) to the Western Ghats. The fragmentation of this wildlife corridor (the three projects cut through different areas of the national park) will INCREASE cases of human and wildlife conflict.
Dudhsagar is one of the tallest waterfalls (310 mts) of India and this forest is an important revenue source for nature-based tourism. Along with Dudhsagar, hundreds of river feeders originate in this forest and are the lifeline for the state’s water supply.
An estimated 42,340 animals become roadkill in Goa each year – how many more will become roadkill with a four-lane highway, members of the campaign ask.
Students In Action
In a letter written to Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar by students from Goa and adjoining states on 18 July 2020, they say: “We, the present generation, are custodians over this inheritance for our children and future generations. It is our primary duty to ensure they inherit at least as much as we did. If we succeed, we may use the fruit of the inheritance. Any loss is a loss to all of us and all future generations.”
The letter further stresses: “As the generation that bears the brunt of climate change and species extinctions, an important question that we would like to raise is: will the future children of Goa inherit the same ecological wealth and benefit from the same ecosystem services including nature-based livelihoods, that Mollem provides today? Moreover, climate and environmental injustices will disproportionately affect children from already marginalized communities like our tribal communities who directly depend on the land and its resources.”
Students have been at the forefront of opposing these projects that would include felling of trees in protected forest areas.
Jyotsna Dessai, a former Zoology student of Parvatibai Chowgule College, Margao said: “These projects will cut through protected areas in Goa. The fragmentation will destroy an important tiger corridor and unparalleled biodiversity. The government must understand that Goans directly depend on the ecosystem services that Mollem provides, by ensuring water security, by mitigating the effects of climate change and by supporting livelihoods of local communities. Will the future children of Goa inherit the same ecological wealth and ecosystem services that Mollem provides today?”
Muskan Shaikh, a current MSc. student at Carmel College, Nuvem said: “The approvals have been hastily given, taking advantage of the lockdown. Mollem is part of the Western Ghats, a global biodiversity hotspot and a lifeline for peninsular India. Generations of Goans have viewed these parks as their national pride. These are our commons. Not just for our present generation but also for future generations to come. We have to protect them. Given this era of climate change and the current pandemic, should we be endangering ourselves further?”
Tourism Industry Worried Too
In July, 159 tourism professionals wrote to the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) in New Delhi voicing their opposition against the three linear projects passing through the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mollem National Park of Goa. The signatories comprised a diverse range of stakeholders across the tourism industry: hotel and restaurant owners; tour operators, guides and outdoor educators and researchers across north and south Goa as well as coastal and hinterland forest areas. The list also included concerned tourism operators based outside the state who bring large groups from across the country and abroad for technology, health, wellness, education, and nature-based experiences.
Nearly 150 tourism industry stakeholders previously wrote to a letter to the Union ministers for environment and forests on June 25.
Chinmay and Gauri Tanshikar, owners of Tanshikar Spice Farm in Goa, have been promoting and sharing sustainable tourism practices for 10 years, stated “Goa was known for sustainable tourism before but now, people’s greed has changed Goa tourism a lot. Sustainable tourism is important because we always need to be ready for global situations like we are facing now. If sustainable practices such as taking care of the people and the land are in place and implemented properly, then those who are dependent on tourism will not suffer or need to go to others asking for help. We will be self-sufficient.”
Politics Heating Up Over The Issue
An MLA from the ruling BJP and an MLA from Goa Congress, cutting across the party lines, had written a second letter to the Union Minister Prakash Javadekar reminding him of the different stake-holder representations, restating their concerns regarding the three infrastructure projects given clearance within Mollem National Park and Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary.
Over the last four months, thousands of citizens have written to the Centre expressing concern and filing objections about the Mollem projects–in letters that are publicly available.
Recently, Power and Environment Minister Nilesh Cabral said his government will go ahead and take these projects to their logical conclusion. Cabral had earlier said that the people of Mollem want the projects and that those opposing the project are not from Mollem.
“The people of Goa will fight it out to their last breath, and not allow the coalition government of BJP, Adani, Sterlite, Vedanta and Jindal to destroy our land, wildlife sanctuaries, environment, health and the future of our youth,” the Co-Convenor of Goencho Aavaz, Captain Viriato Fernandes told Herald Goa.
The founder member of Goencho Ekvott group and Chairman of VACAD, Orville Dourado Rodrigues said: “Cabral must stop acting like an agent of the corporate to satiate their greed at the cost of the health, livelihood and environment in the tiny state of Goa. Goans will never forget the great betrayal by one whom they considered as one of their own.”