A Question Of Trust

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Government needs to take effective measures for sustainable development

A conflict has been building up between residents along the South Western Railway route on the one side and the central and state governments on the other over double tracking of the rail lines along the stretch. A large group of residents of Davorlim stopped the work on double tracking on Monday alleging that the work was being carried out illegally. Their contention was that the land for the work on which the second track is being laid was not acquired legally. The South Western Railway however proved the claims of illegality in land acquisition wrong by producing evidence that due payment was made to the owners of the land and due process followed. The explanation however failed to satisfy the people, some of whom claimed that the money was claimed by the landlords and that they were deprived of the benefits. Some agreed having received compensation but expressed willingness to return it as they do not want the project to go ahead. Some people now want the South Western Railway to obtain permission from panchayats, while others claim that the land was acquired by the Konkan Railway for some other purpose.

People living along the railway lines and in and around Mollem have been opposing developmental projects on the ground that they adversely affect the environment. The protests against the projects appear to be building up every passing day and the state and the central authorities have done little to set at rest the fears among the opponents of the project and to take them on board. The main fear of the opponents of the double tracking project is that it is aimed at facilitating large scale transportation of coal from the Mormugao Port Trust to places in Karnataka and that it would cause widespread coal pollution. The claims of the people about coal pollution are not unfounded as coal dust appears to be littered along the route as it is transported with mitigating measures having been found to be inadequate. In case the frequency of goods trains carrying coal is increased there is a possibility of pollution increasing manifold and affecting more people and areas as it can travel distances.

The local people have now started exerting pressure on local legislators, including those in the ruling camp, who appear to be more than ready to side with them. The government, despite agreeing to stop the work on double tracking, has done little to address the concerns of the people. A veiled warning from the Director General of Police Mukesh Kumar Meena to those “opposing national projects” is being used as a stick by the agitators to beat the government. There is a possibility of the issues flaring up if the state and central authorities fail to rein in popular sentiments. Rather than reviving the double tracking project and speeding it up simultaneously with National Highway expansion and laying power transmission lines it would have been better if efforts were made to engage local MLAs and residents. As it is known that local people usually oppose developmental projects the government should have worked beforehand to allay their fears and settle their grievances.

It is strange to see the state government speaking in a dual tone. On one hand, it is saying that it will go with the wishes of the people; on the other, it is insisting the projects would go ahead unhindered and that the BJP would come back to power on the basis of its developmental works. The government does not enjoy a very high level of popular trust as far as controlling pollution and protecting the environment is concerned. It is known that developmental projects do come with some pollution and damage to the environment. Good governance means governance that can keep the ecological damages within sustainable limits. That is the practice the world over. If the concerns of the people about pollution and damage to the environment likely to be caused by the three projects are addressed before it is too late, the opposition to them would be substantially reduced. The authorities should come forward with concrete steps and effective measures to keep the negative impact upon the environment and lives of the people within control.