27 May 2022  |   07:03am IST

David vs Goliath: Chandor locals fight Railways to stop double-tracking & environmental destruction

The concerns of residents of Chandor that their historic village will soon be converted into a coal hub have fallen on deaf ears; they are still fighting the big system in courts and the streets. Locals fear that a fifth track will be laid at this same spot even as river banks, coconut trees on the side are on the verge of collapsing and a tributary has been destroyed
David vs Goliath: Chandor locals fight Railways to stop double-tracking & environmental destruction


CHANDOR:  The Supreme Court directive canceling the National Board of Wild Life permission for doubling the railway tracks passing through the 29 km (approx) stretch within the Mollem National park and wildlife sanctuary, has hardly made any difference to the struggles of those in Goa’s hinterland villages, where it’s business as usual with the Railways continuing its “process” of expansion, even as some of Goa’s most beautiful villages are getting destroyed.

The ongoing expansion work of the railway track in Chandor has caused nothing but heartache to the local residents who are afraid that their village, which is so rich in history and natural resources will soon be converted into a coal hub and the villagers will be treated as second-class citizens in their own land.

They fear that even the tourists, who visit Chandor, the former capital of Goa, to check out its heritage homes, lush green surroundings, and remnants of bygone-era, will be welcomed by coal dust and eventually stop coming altogether.

Together with the locals from the neighboring village of Guirdolim, these locals have been battling the Railways and are trying to stop the double-tracking project and the double-barred destruction of the environment.  

Speaking of ecological damage, a retaining wall has been built by the Railways right in the middle of a tributary of River Zuari that originates from Macazana. A sluice gate here has also been broken and so have the hopes of the farmers and fishermen who depend on this water for their livelihood.

“In February 2021, we filed a complaint before the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA). 14 months later in April 2022, GCZMA sent the Railways a show-cause notice pointing out the CRZ violations by which time all the work here was completed. The Railways replied saying all that we are saying is false, but GCZMA refused to take this case to its logical conclusion,” said Felix Furtado from Chandor.

“Therefore, as GCZMA was not taking action, I filed a petition in the High Court on behalf of Ganv Bhavancho Ekvott against the Railways, where GCZMA is also one of the respondents,” Furtado added.

Furtado is also part of other NGOs like ‘Rainbow Warriors’ and ‘Goyant Kollso Naka’, which have been fighting against the railway double-tracking project, coal transportation as well as other linear projects, Sagarmala, etc.

Through information obtained under RTI, these groups believe that the Railways plan to acquire vast fields near the railway tracks, which could be used as a yard for dumping coal.

“Do you remember what happened in Verna when coal was dumped there? We fear that there are similar plans afoot here where land will be acquired forcibly without taking permissions and thereafter, given that the rivers have been nationalized,  Chandor will become a coal hub and a transit point for the transportation of coal,” said Gidwan Da Costa, a resident of Chandor.

“Coal will be brought via the river in barges and then unloaded in the yard near the tracks and then be put in these coal wagons for transportation. This is all for the double-tracking project. They wanted to put ten tracks here but we protested against this in November 2020 when 8,000 people came here to block such plans,” said Da Costa, who is also part of the group United Against Coal’.

Nearly two years after those famous mass protests in Chandor, the locals who are still on the ground fighting are now concerned about the Railways’ plans to lay the fifth track next to the four tracks that exist there. 

“Look at the new platform that has been built here on the side of the tracks. It is twice the size of the existing platform. This platform is next to the tributary and if you proceed further, you will see how close it is to the khazan lands nearby. Simultaneously, the government is not taking action against those who are sucking out all the sand from the riverbeds, because of which the river banks and trees have started to collapse” Furtado added.

The locals also show that the platform which has been built with mud has industrial slag beneath it and this dark black slag can be seen at the entrance of the platform. They added that this slag has been brought from steel plants and has already contaminated the biodiversity of the area.

“When I was a young boy, I would come here with my father to fish for crabs, for angling, etc. All those days are long gone now. They have even shifted the outlet of water which was in line with this platform. They have also drastically narrowed the size of this outlet so much that there is erosion taking place and our village road, street lamps all could fall into the water. It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Da Costa added.

What’s worse is that debris that was dumped for building these retaining walls on either side of the tracks and the new platform was dumped not only in these water bodies but also in private properties including that of the church fabrica.

“This debris and mud have still been dumped here on public and private property. They should remove it. These tributaries, lakes, and water bodies are the floodplains of this area but are filled with mud. On one side the Central and State governments speak about their goals for rejuvenating rivers and helping farmers but on the other side, they are conveniently looking away when these same rivers and fields are being killed,” said another local resident.

Incidentally, when railway officials were contacted, they said there are only two tracks there and not four and the other two are loop lines that are laid at any railway station. They further added that they have received no order barring them from carrying out work at the railway tracks.

The locals of Chandor and Guirdolim however question the very need to complete expansion work here at Chandor and elsewhere in Goa when working through Wildlife Sanctuary is no longer permitted following the Supreme Court verdict. 

That's an answer the authorities do not have officially which only increases the people's suspicion and enlarges the difference between the local stakeholders and the official machinery.


Iddhar Udhar