A Poll Gamble

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BJP risks opposition to push for rail double tracking in state

AT a time when opposition to the double tracking of the South Western Railway line in the state is growing, the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party has thrown its weight behind the project. Goa BJP president Sadanand Shet Tanavade has sought to justify the nod for double tracking saying that the party has been enlightened by the speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi following the triumph of the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar that henceforth development would be the only basis for politics. He has gone on to claim that all the ongoing developmental works in Goa including the double-tracking work would be completed before the 2022 state Assembly elections, an achievement he hopes will be appreciated by the people of the state and help the party retain power with a thumping majority. Tanavade blamed the Congress for bringing the double tracking project to the state as it was approved by the Centre during the Congress rule. He said that Congress failed to execute the project and it was left to BJP to make it a reality.

There is no doubt that the double tracking project was approved during the regime of the United Progressive Alliance. Though the project got the approval, it was put on hold for various reasons, including opposition from the people of the state. The revival of the project has led to the opposition resurfacing. People who had thought that the project would be scrapped after it failed to make any progress following due approval were in for a rude shock as it has not only been revived but is sought to be fast tracked by the state and central authorities. Surprisingly quite a few of the BJP legislators and others have joined the public in opposing the project. It remains to be seen how the ruling party will deal with the opposition from within the party to the project. The double tracking project is being opposed not only because many houses would be affected but also because it would add to pollution as it is mainly intended to transport coal from the port town of Vasco to places in Karnataka.

There is no doubt that people in the state have opposed many developmental projects citing environmental concerns. The opponents were proven wrong when some of the projects like the Konkan Railway were completed and the way it benefited the state. But other projects like Nylon 6,6 and Special Economic Zones were abandoned in view of the opposition finding some reasonable grounds. The daily life of persons residing in areas through which coal is transported has been affected by transportation of coal, exposing them to health risks. The clarifications put forth by the state and central authorities about reduction in handling of coal at Mormugao Port Trust, its transportation and the way the pollution would be controlled have failed to satisfy people.  With no solution coming forth, people have decided to agitate to get the project scrapped.

Will the people easily give in and accept the assurances given by the ruling party that development will bring prosperity to the Goans? Will the people accept the developmental activity that is likely to cause pollution and environmental degradation? It has to be noted that people are not ready to accept the statements of the authorities that coal handling at MPT would be curtailed. The statements made by the authorities have been far from convincing. The local people, who are being backed by the local leaders of political parties including the BJP, have also expressed their scepticism about the explanations by the authorities that the three projects passing through Mollem would not have any impact on the environment. This is for the first time that any ruling party in the state has decided to go ahead with controversial projects disregarding opposition from the people. Now that the BJP has thrown its weight behind the double tracking project, the situation might become more confrontational and it remains to be seen how the government will deal with it. Much is at stake for the BJP in the next Assembly elections. The party aims to take risks to gain a majority on its own.