SURAJ NANDREKAR, DHIRAJ HARMALKAR
People of Goa are embroiled in one of the biggest agitations of late against the double-tracking of railway line from Castle rock to Vasco mainly for two reasons that is fear of transportation of more coal from MPT to neighbouring State and many of the Goans are set to lose their heritage house for the projects.
Thousands gathered on November 9 at Chandor protesting against the South Western Railway (SWR) plans of taking up work at level crossing and staying put the entire night, which took the agitation to an entirely different level.
Thereafter, the SWR suspended works of double tracking at Davorlim etc.
The State government led by the Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and the MLAs have given assurances to the people on the scrapping of the project.
The Railways in its reply says the project of doubling of Railway track between Hospet (Karnataka) and Vasco-da-gama(Goa) (342 km) in the year 2010-11 at a cost of Rs 2,127 crore.
The project has since been nearly completed in the State of Karnataka except 10 Km between Unkal and Hubballi, which is targeted for commissioning by March 2021.
About 7 km track between Margao- Majorda in the State of Goa has also been doubled. Remaining stretch of about 90 Km is in the State of Goa, where works are awarded for doubling and are being taken up after ensuring necessary clearances.
Following are the questions raised by Team Herald and the replies by Railways:
Herald: What is the purpose of double tracking project being executed by SWR in State of Goa?
Doubling of Railway track is done to strengthen the network with the sole objective of improving connectivity. Single line Railway line has serious constraints in train operations as need to wait for crossings and number of trains that can be run is very limited.
Problem is even more severe between Castle Rock and the Kulem Ghat section popularly known as Braganza Ghat.
Trains can be run with a gap of 15 to 20 minutes in plain sections whereas between Castle Rock and Kulem in length of 25 Km, for safe working of trains, in view of having only a single train, trains can be run keeping a minimum 75 min gap.
The trains in this Ghat section are provided with Automatic Emergency Brake that limits speed of trains down the Ghat to 30 kmph only. Moreover at all the intermediate stations trains shall stop and start taking extra time in the process.
The number of passenger trains that are presently running is just six.
Once the track is doubled, the additional section capacity generated can be used for additional trains. More number of passenger trains connecting different parts of South Goa to Vasco da Gama can be commenced and also connecting Goa to Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu can be commenced fulfilling the long-standing demands.
As Naval command at Goa is strategically located in Arabian Sea, to meet the need of moving troops and materials at short notice in case of emergencies, a good Railway network is of importance from a Defence point of view.
Herald: Can the doubling project be limited only up to Margao as anyways there is not much passenger traffic from Vasco?
That is a policy decision, we cannot decide on it. It is a decision which has to be made by the State and the Centre.
Herald: People are apprehensive that the doubling will increase in Coal transportation, which is also stated in Sagarmala 5 proposal.
The statistics of the quantum of coal being transported from MPT by SWR over the years indicate a 25% reduction in span of just 4 years.
The concern of increasing coal transportation once doubling is done will be far from reality because as a policy, usage of coal is being discouraged and only non conventional energy resources which are clean fuels will be preferred over. Also due to thrust on Aatmanirbhar Bharat, imported coal is expected to diminish.
It's understood that the present ceiling imposed by Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) is much higher than what's being transported by Railways.
Another issue remains is the covering of wagons is not full proof, we are looking at that issue and will sort it out immediately. In fact, there was a project underway to design covered wagons for coal but due to unavoidable circumstances the project was stopped midway.
Herald: What would be the effect on the environment /cutting of trees?
Laying of the second track for the double line is proposed to be done, right next to the existing railway track only. Therefore no new impact on flora and fauna is anticipated on this account. No land in the new area is being acquired. Also, the work will be done mostly within the railway land, necessitating minimum land acquisition in a stretch of 90 Km.
Railway is one of the pioneers in conservation of the environment and taking up several initiatives towards a greener planet. Moreover, upcoming electrification will make Railways Carbon neutral.
In fact, the entire area between Castlerock-Kulem has been jointly surveyed on foot by a team of officials from the Forest Department and Railways, for counting of each and every tree getting affected for construction of proposed doubling.
The total number of trees present in the land envelope of the proposed doubling site is estimated to be around 18,500 only.
This is the total number of trees and while laying the Railway line, only bare minimum number of trees that are on embankment/ infringing retaining walls will be cut down.
The final figure of trees that may have to cut down will be substantially less.
In fact keeping trees is in interest of Railways as in Ghat section especially having trees will be safeguarding against soil erosion and prevents potential landslides; therefore Railway would not want to cut trees.
As per the policy of Government of India, compensatory afforestation has also been planned to the extent of 10 times the number of trees to be cut.
Railways is well aware of the ecological importance of western Ghats and the biological diversity of this region and is committed to preserve the same.
The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) in the Castlerock-Kulem section of this route has been conducted by an independent institution - Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
On completion of the study, a detailed report has been submitted, in which various mitigation measures were suggested to be followed during execution of doubling. Indian Institute of Science (IISC) has considered all aspects of environmental issues, biodiversity conservation and public consultation in their report such as:
a. Classification of landscape based on satellite data.
b. Vegetation characteristics of the proposed area.
c.Diversity and abundance of butterflies.
d. Diversity and abundance of Dragonflies and Damselflies.
e. Diversity of freshwater fish.
f. Avian diversity.
g. Survey of reptiles.
h. Impact on cavity nesting birds.
i. Mammalian diversity
j.and vide chapter 17 of EIA report likely impact on physical and biological environment.
Further the report emphasizes on:-
a.Impact on the physical environment &
b.Impact on the biodiversity of the proposed area.
The report also includes the individual species type and its share in percentage according to the carbon pool/biomass.
The report also includes assessment of
a. Butterflies and Dragonflies
b. Freshwater fish diversity
d. Birds and Mammals.
IISC, Bangalore has suggested mitigation measures to be adopted during execution in detail.
Apart from this, based on a decision taken by the National Board of Wild Life during its 59th meeting held on 05.10.2020, WildLife Institute of India, Dehradun has been entrusted with the job of carrying out a detailed survey.
The recommendations of Indian Institute of Science, as well as Wildlife Institute of India shall be implemented positively by Railways during execution of the work in consultation with Forest officials of Goa during execution of the work.
Herald: Can you share the details of proposed land acquisition:
As doubling is being done predominantly in Railway land, there is no additional impact on the environment. Care will be taken to ensure least disturbance during construction and alignment will be decided to avoid trees to the extent possible.
As per norms stipulated in Indian Railway Engineering code, for lying on a double line with an average bank height of 2m, additional requirement of land will be to the extent of 0.8 Ha per km. Thus, for laying of double line in 47 km long plain section between Kalem-Vasco in the State of Goa, the requirement of additional land would have been 47x0.8 = 37.6 Ha; but, keeping in view the concerns expressed by public of Goa, attempts have been made to accommodate the doubling of track within available Railway land itself by way of construction of retaining walls and by eliminating requirement of land for service roads/borrow pits etc.
For a 47 km stretch in the plain section of the State of Goa, only 12.93 Ha of private land has been proposed for acquisition which works out as 0.275 ha per km, which is significantly low in comparison to standard requirement /national average.
In the planning stage itself, joint inspection along with public representatives of 8 Members of Legislative Assembly and State government officials were conducted to identify the number of structures likely to be affected due to doubling.
At that time also, 6 out of 8 MLAs have supported the doubling project.
Any land acquisition can and will be done only on obtaining consent from concerned owners by Government of Goa only, on paying two (villages) to four (cities) times the normal market rate.
The protests have started recently only since October-2020.
Herald: How much land needs to be acquired by SWR for double tracking?
Total land requirement details from Kulem-Vasco Section.
Private land is 12.0557 Ha.
This is a microscopic % compared to land already available with Railways for full section i.e 157 Hectares.
The requirement of private land has been kept at bare minimum.
Herald: When did the State government clear the doubling project?
Discussions have been held with the Government of Goa since 2010-11, the year of sanction of project .
Herald: When land requisitions were submitted to district authorities?
For Kulem-Madgaon Section the requisition was submitted on 6th Sept 2016 and for Majorda-Vasco on 12th June 2017.
Herald: What was the actual Land parcel available with Railways meterguage?
At the time of laying of meterguage track, 1704 Ha of land was acquired by Railways in the State of Goa for nearly 77 Km route.
Herald: But there are apprehensions of houses being demolished especially heritage ones.
The concern expressed about the effect on centuries-old heritage houses is understandable but Railway assures that route is proposed in such a way to avoid effect on houses. Detailed site inspection has already been carried out along with State Authorities for identification of buildings and structures coming in the alignment. This is to clarify that not even a single heritage house is coming in the proposed alignment of double track which may need to be dismantled.
In entire 90 Km of Railway track in Goa, only 14 number of structures, mainly boundary walls of few houses, are likely to get partially affected as under
Herald: People fear the doubling will affect the St Sebastian Church cemetery?
No part of St Sebastian cemetery at Madgoan including compound wall/coconut trees outside the boundary wall is getting affected because of doubling work. Copy of photograph of this location is enclosed from which it may be seen that the work is being done outside the boundary wall of the cemetery.
Herald: What is the procedure for land acquisition for the project?
SDM (Sub-Divisional Magistrate),Vasco has notified the land proposed to be acquired by releasing notices in all the newspapers covering Goa, seeking any representations in this regard.
This notice was published on June 17, 2020 and one-month period was given for submitting representations, if any.
Dialogue with all the stakeholders was initiated by SDM, Vasco and also the date for hearing was fixed, but couldn't be taken up. For the time being, hearing has been kept in abeyance.
Herald: For such a big project, people say the SWR failed to take people into confidence.
To address the apprehensions and allay the fears of public in this regard,
South Western Railway conducted an online press conference chaired by AGM/SWR on 11/11/2020 and clarified that proposed doubling of track is in the interest of public
.No new area is being taken for laying Railway line
.Will not have any additional impact on environment
.Maximum care will be taken during construction of line
.Similar infrastructure development projects being executed all over country including ecologically sensitive North Eastern region
.Environment impact assessment study got done by Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru
.Tree cutting requirement is very less and will be reduced further
.Foot survey will be done for finalizing alignment
.Quantum of coal being transported is continuously declining
.Railways is committed development of Goa in environment friendly way
.At the time of handing over the subject memorandum, the objectives of proposed doubling were conveyed to the delegation that met AGM/SWR.
To fulfill the need for a robust, energy efficient and safe transport, which will not only improve intrastate and interstate connectivity to the state of Goa, the project of doubling of railway track is essential.
Public consultation was done in June 2016 itself, about the project and the same is recorded in the EIA report too.
Herald: Does SWR plan for electrification of the railway?
Yes, Railway electrification of the entire route between Tinaighat-Vasco has been sanctioned and works are in progress for the same in the state of Karnataka. In two years, we will eliminate the diesel engines. However, the train diesel engines are much less pollutants than the road vehicles. Train engines are 10 times less polluting than road vehicles.
Herald: So how the Railways plans to meet the electricity requirement for running trains. Is there any connection with the 400kv transmission line coming up at Sangod Mollem?
No, not at all, Railway will be self sustaining and will meet its electricity requirement through solar power by utilising the space available next to the tracks in the State. The solar parks will produce 2 gigabyte of solar energy which will be much more than required energy.