The government has to come clear on the double tracking of the South West Railway line and explain to the people how this will benefit them. The opposition to the double tracking of the line has been growing. There are today at least three MLAs who have publicly stood with the people on this issue and two of them are from the ruling BJP. The movement is growing. It was initiated from Mormugao and Salcete talukas, but has now also moved to Ponda taluka and elsewhere. Given the passions that have been raised, this movement is unlikely to die down unless the government can meet and convince the people otherwise.
That, under the current circumstance, is a very difficult proposition. Goencho Ekvott, a recently-formed group that has been spearheading the movement against the double tracking, has just rejected the proposal for a meeting with the Collector regarding land acquisition for the project, that was scheduled to take place on September 22. Their stand, they said, is clear – complete opposition to the double-tracking of the railway line and no coal transportation through the State of Goa. Their memorandum demanding cancelation of the meeting states that they reject the ‘very idea of land acquisition and the proposed discussion with the Collector’ as ‘any talk about land acquisition is tantamount to accepting the transportation of coal through our villages’.
This is not just about a railway line parallel to the existing one. Opposition to the transportation of coal through the State due to the resultant pollution has been growing. The move to double the track has now been linked by the people to coal transportation, as Goa does not have such a large number of passenger travellers that would necessitate an additional line. Will the government be able to convince the people that the extra line that is proposed to be laid out will benefit the local population, or that it will only lead to more passenger trains passing through the densely-populated villages of Goa and not transport coal? If the government wanted to do this at some point, then it has gone about it the wrong way already.
On the weekend there was quite a bid of drama as an awareness meeting called to explain the project was refused permission by the authorities at the 11th hour, but Goencho Ekvott decided that it would not be subjugated and the meeting was instead held in the fields of Majorda. As pointed out by Creson Antao, the convenor of Goencho Ekvott, at the time that the Majorda meeting was on, there was another being held in Mollem, where two ministers were meeting the people and that was not refused permission. “Why is the government suppressing our voice?” he asked. Significantly, the pictures of the two meetings were in stark contrast, as there was social distancing at Majorda meeting in open fields, while this was not possible at the Mollem meeting held in a closed hall.
The move by the authorities to try and stop the meeting has spurred the people and weakened the government’s stand. How is the government going to get the people across the table after this? The meeting with the Collector has now been rejected. The lack of foresight on the part of the government when conceiving this project without taking the people into confidence is plainly on display. The authorities need to appreciate that the people have to be consulted on projects that are going to have an effect on them. Right now, the people are quite certain that they don’t want the doubling of the track, that they don’t want coal transportation. The ball is now in the government’s court, waiting to be served.