MARGAO: Village Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) in South Goa have expressed very grave concern over a paradox. They have articulated clearly that while diligently documenting local biodiversity as instructed by the government, infrastructure projects jeopardise the same biodiversity.
For instance, Loliem village's BMC Chairperson, Manoj Prabhugaonkar, illustrates this dilemma by highlighting efforts to safeguard the Bhagwati plateau's biodiversity from the impending Film City project.
Notably, the BMC had previously initiated measures to preserve the plateau's biodiversity, reinforcing their present protest.
In Velsao, the double tracking project not only traverses the village but also disrupts the local environment during expansion. Despite community opposition and representations, these projects proceed without a thorough Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Andrea D’Souza, a Velsao BMC member, emphasised on the threat to biodiversity, livelihoods, and heritage, stressing the need for a comprehensive EIA to ensure sustainable development. Andrea highlights the disparity in project benefits favouring corporations, raising ethical concerns about fairness. She emphasised upon the necessity to prioritise environmental impacts in developmental endeavours.
“BMCs are established with the fundamental goal of promoting collective welfare of our village. However, continuation of such projects without due consideration of EIA, defeats the very purpose for which the BMCs are constituted. I urge a reconsideration of the ongoing initiatives and a comprehensive review that includes rigorous EIAs,” Andrea concluded.
Vivekanand Kantak, a Majorda-Utorda-Calata village BMC member, expressed disappointment with lack of respect for the Biodiversity Act.
“Due to the Supreme Court’s order, BMCs are being formed in every Panchayat or else they would have not existed. The Act emphasis on preservation of biodiversity. But the State government has a different and ambitious plan of development, which is basically concrete-based. Infrastructure development is a small percentage, housing and land conversion are given priority,” said Kantak.
He lamented the rapid destruction of land resources in Goa, highlighting the disregard for local knowledge and sentiments in government projects. Kantak pointed towards prevailing disconnect, where project planning occurs in air-conditioned offices by so-called competent authorities, neglecting the input of those affected on the ground.
“Villagers who have been living over generations have to go through painful times when biodiversity which they have preserved, is destroyed. This rich biodiversity has given a lot of benefits whether it’s medicinal, underground water storage, flora-fauna, economic output. Birds, animals, reptiles and important underground species are being rampantly destroyed. They play a silent, but a big role in environment preservation,” Kantak added.
In Curtorim, BMC Chairperson Santan Rodrigues said the fault lies in the fact that the BMCs have no mandate to act on suo moto basis and take measures to stop the destruction.
He was personally saddened to see the ongoing planned destruction in Goa’s biodiversity, which he felt was being carried out through the approvals given by the Town and Country Planning (TCP) Department during the pandemic.
“The Chicalim BMC has been working under guidelines from the Biodiversity Act 2002 & Biodiversity Rules 2004 with the support and guidance from the GSBB. The fact is that there is a conflict between preserving our Village and approvals given by the MPDA and Local body for mega gated projects without any concern and respect for the ponds, fields and other water bodies,” said Rui M Da Costa Araujo, Chicalim BMC’s Chairperson.
“Chicalim has been facing problems with disposal of garbage and the mega projects could lead to contamination of soil and groundwater. There is an urgent need to identify proper garbage dumping sites and explore options to reduce, recycle and reuse. Mega projects should also be curated in a sustainable manner; by drawing a balance between development and ecological wellbeing,” Rui added further.
Jose Roque Andrade, Nuvem BMC Chairperson, outlined the primary role of BMCs in preparing and regularly updating the People's Biodiversity Register (PBR). However, under the current Biodiversity Act, BMCs lack the authority to halt environmental irregularities.
Andrade noted that most BMC members raise concerns with relevant authorities as citizens since village BMCs lack such power. He emphasised on the current role of village BMCs as documenters rather than enforcers.
Andrade described the challenges faced by Nuvem's biodiversity, citing examples like the western bypass construction, where the government denied their request to build a portion on stilts.
Other issues include faulty river Sal desilting leading to uprooting of trees, reduction in nullah sizes, unscientific bandhara closures impacting the environment, discharge of waste in water bodies, and adverse effects of rapid construction without considering Nuvem's carrying capacity.
This underscores the need for amendments to empower BMCs to address and prevent environmental degradation effectively.