Herald: The links Loutolikars will find missing - Its forests, hills and wildlife
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The links Loutolikars will find missing - Its forests, hills and wildlife

21 Dec 2017 05:19am IST

Report by
Supriya Vohra

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21 Dec 2017 05:19am IST

Report by
Supriya Vohra

Leave a comment

The missing link project in Loutolim is well under way inspite of the forest department’s clear report that soil erosion, habitat fragmentation and ecology damage would take place; MOEFCC countered this by saying apprehensions will be offset by mitigation

From a distance, it looks like a thick red line, almost like blood, snaking down from the top of a steep, deep green hill. The line strips bare a dense forest, full of aged indigenous trees and home to several species of animals and birds, including leopards. It continues down the hill, and sits on top of a low lying paddy field. This thick red line is over 40m wide, and takes up over 5 hectares of forest and khazan land.

There is going to be a big, busy ring road type terminal here, a security guard at Loutolim’s “missing link” construction site said “They are making a grand road here, it will go all the way to the other side of the hill”

Correspondence received through RTIs filed by activists reveals that 82,218 sq mtrs of land was acquired by the PWD Division XIV officials on 14th August 2008, The land was a mix of a private forest and khazan, lying between Verna Industrial estate and Angdi in Loutolim.

All forest land, whether government or privately owned, falls under the forest department and All agencies require an NOC from the forest department before commencing any work that requires felling of trees.

Thereafter, the Executive Engineer of PWD XIV sent a letter to the Deputy Conservator of Forests in Margao, requesting permission to cut trees in the 5.18 ha region of Loutolim “standing on the alignment of the road, required to be cut before starting the work.”

The Forest Department’s inspection files reveal that this area had over 1100 trees, out of which 23 were forest tree species and about 8 non-forest, including teak and mango trees.

“The land was under prospective private forest land, belonging to the South Goa Forest Committee,” explained Anil Shetgaonkar, Deputy Conservator of Forests, South Goa.

In a letter dated September 5, 2015, addressed to the executive engineers of PWD Division 14, the Deputy Conservator stated that the area was forestry in nature, and suggested to submit a file for approval under Section 2 of Forest Conservation Act 1980.

Section 2 of Forest Conservation Act 1980 allows an agency to use forest land for non-forest purposes, with the approval of the Central Government.

In a letter dated 28th October 2016, the Dy. Conservator of Forests, south Goa division, told the Dy. Conservator of Forests, Monitoring and Evaluation that the forestry patch possesses environmental and socio economic value, and that the proposed road construction could lead to soil erosion, as the area was a slope, and would also cause habitat fragmentation, thus damaging the ecology of the region.

In February 2017, the Ministry of Forests, Environment and Climate Change (MOEFCC) wrote to Goa’s forest Secretary approving Stage 1 of the clearance under Section 2 of Forest Conservation Act. it was decided the apprehensions of ecological damage “will be offset with suitable mitigation measures” some of which included, “building a wall to prevent soil erosion” and “fencing regions.”

On 29th August 2017, the MOEFCC gave Goa state government the final permission for diversion of 5.18 ha of forest land in Loutolim village for the construction of the “missing link.”

 The construction contract was assigned to a private contractor M/s M. Venkat Rao Infra Projects Pvt. Ltd (MVR) under Engineering Procurement Construction (EPC) mode, tendered at Rs. 139 crores. The Design consultants of the project is Vasco based outfit Madhav Kamat & Associates.

The work in Loutolim began on September 19, 2017.

 “It was only during the first week of October that we found out what was going on,” says Ramiro Mascerenhas. “There was no notice board or anything of that sort, and they told us they had started their work on September 19.”

Ramiro Mascerenhas and Mario Pereira, natives and residents of Loutolim, noticed big machines on the plateau region. They went up, saw them cutting the hill, demanded an explanation, and managed to stop the work for a few days. “Next thing we know, a board is up and the destruction has started again,” Ramiro says.

By 14th October, approximately 40 activists went up the steep gradient and demanded the contractors to stop the work and bring down the machines, “We want to know the entire alignment plan, where is the road starting and ending. We want to know the socio-economic impact assessment of this project. We firmly believe this road is being built for transport of coal, and we don’t want any dirty coal to come through our villages,” said Edwin Mascerenhas, a native of Loutolim to the media

Apart from MPT’s  2007 Business Development report mentioned earlier, one of the letters detailing the project mentioned that the “project will establish proper linkage to Mormugao Port and also connect Verna and Sancoale Industrial areas, Goa Airport and Vasco city and will remove all bottlenecks and impediments for a proper port connectivity required for movement of cargo and other traffic.” The work was stopped for a few days, and started again on, 16th October. This time, there were a group of security guards manning the site.

With the construction of a 40m wide, about 3km long “missing link – four-lane highway,” slicing through a forest hill and paddy fields of the village, Loutolim will be on the high road  to connectivity. But will the village retain its identity of being one of the last bastions of an idyll village life in the bounty of nature. In part 2, of this two part report, the village will speak.

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