MARGAO: After having knocked on the doors of all the authorities concerned, the farmers of Loutolim village have reiterated their strong opposition to the proposed alignment for the new Borim bridge passing through their fields. Their next plan of action is to discuss this issue with the PWD Chief Engineer and the consultants for the bridge later this week.
This decision was taken after a delegation of the locals led by Albert Pereira, Chairman of the Tenants Association had met Nuvem MLA Aleixo Sequeira at his residence, with the MLA then speaking to the Chief Engineer to schedule the meeting.
Locals have been concerned about the bridge’s impact on the fertile fields, highlighting potential destruction during construction and the vital role these fields play in the community. While the locals also argued that the consultant had chosen the most destructive of the various alignment options for the bridge that the consultant had come up with, Sequeira had stated that he not personally seen any of the alignments but that it would be best that the matter be discussed across the table with the Chief Engineer and the consultant. Sequiera added that the Chief Engineer was out of town last week but had suggested that a meeting be held along with the consultant.
Incidentally, the consultant and PWD officials were present for the gram sabha meeting held earlier this month, where they were grilled by the villagers who had carried out a protest earlier that day.
Here the villagers had criticised the officials for failing to consult or inform either the panchayat or the villagers about the project or alignment selection process. Speaking about their next meeting with the PWD Chief Engineer and the consultant, Pereira emphasized the unwavering stance of the locals and the farmers.
“We insist that the bridge should not pass over our khazan lands. This stands as the collective perspective of both farmers and villagers. While we are open to discussing other matters, we won’t negotiate when it comes to our fields,” he said.
Pereira further explained that the proposed bridge cuts right through the middle of their khazan fields and that the arm of the bridge would destroy their fields that have been with them for generations. He also gave the example of trucks passing through the field with construction material for the bridge’s work.
“We cultivate these fields biannually, with those neglecting cultivation receiving notices for leaving the fields fallow. These khazan fields, producing around 100 tons of paddy annually, are our lifeline and contribute to the greenery of Loutolim. Preserving them is non-negotiable,” Pereira added. Activist Xavier Fernandes felt that the chosen alignment was more for the benefit of the Mormugao port and not the local population.
Locals also refer to the note they found that had been written by Chief Engineer (CE) of PWD National Highway (NH) to the Union MoRTH Chief Engineer, recommending that ‘alternative 7’ be approved on priority as this alignment had the shortest distance for traffic on NH-17B leading to the Mormugao Port (MPT).
Fernandes added that the other alignment has to be chosen, which would avoid the destruction of the paddy fields, khazan and the irrigation command area.
“The acquisition procedure has been started without any environmental impact assessment. The selection of the best alternative should have been based on the least environmental impact, but this has not been done. The Consultant has not collected any data with regards to drainage, biological wealth, forests, wetlands, critical natural habitats, etc,” added Adrian Chiquito while pointing out another flaw.
Another resident Ramiro Mascarenhas highlighted the discrepancy in traffic studies conducted pre-2016, indicating a substantial reduction in traffic post-2022 on the Margao-Ponda section, rendering the chosen alternative less efficient.