02 Jun 2024  |   04:50am IST

Opposition mounts against railway double-tracking

Goa’s plan to double-track rail lines faces fierce opposition over environmental concerns, land acquisition fears, and potential impact on cultural heritage. Activists, residents, and heritage advocates raise alarm about tree felling, habitat loss, pollution, and threats to archaeological sites, accusing authorities of underhand tactics amid intensifying clashes. KARSTEN MIRANDA reports amidst the project nearing competition soon
Opposition mounts against railway double-tracking


For the last couple of years, there has been growing opposition to the double-tracking project of railway lines in Goa. Environmental concerns are at the forefront, with fears that the project leads to the felling of a large number of trees, especially in protected areas like the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park. Environmental activists are worried about the potential loss of biodiversity and habitat fragmentation and have taken this matter before the Supreme Court too. Adding to the concerns are apprehensions from locals living close to the railway tracks. 

They are wary of the increased noise and air pollution levels, as well as vibrations from trains impacting their residential structures, once the double-tracking is completed and more trains start operating.

The project also requires the acquisition of land belonging to private individuals, farmers, and local communities. Protests erupt against what some view as forced acquisition and inadequate compensation being offered, further fuelling the opposition. Goa’s rich cultural heritage adds another layer to the resistance. Concerns are raised about the potential impact of double-tracking on heritage structures, temples, and archaeological sites located close to the existing rail lines.

The opposition to the double-tracking project in Goa stems from a confluence of environmental, social, cultural, and economic factors, creating a complex tapestry of concerns that need to be addressed before the controversial railway expansion plan is completed. Local residents added that they are being deprived of their right to get a fair hearing from the authorities.

A villager, Minguelino Mascarenhas, who is in his late 90s, along with his wife, lamented about how the quality of life had deteriorated for those living by the tracks and how the senior citizens are suffering while many of their neighbours including the younger generation have moved out as they can’t bear the noise from the multiple trains that pass by the tracks daily.

“What have we done for such a tragedy to hit us? Are we second or third-class citizens in our own land? Chief Minister Pramod Sawant must take cognisance of this and also respond to our queries. Is this the kind of development the government wishes to promote? At what cost? Do they care?!” said Orville Dourado Rodrigues, Goencho Ekvott (GE) Founder, which has been at the forefront in the agitation against double tracking.

Former Cortalim MLA and ex-Minister Alina Saldanha lamented that those living near the tracks face air and sound pollution, risking losing their land. She said it was the government’s duty to address their concerns.

“Would the government live in such houses? If they were residents, would they allow their families to live like this with risks involved?” asked Saldanha.

She criticized RVNL and the government for laying the second track next to locals’ houses without Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and social impact studies, highlighting villagers’ lives and living conditions.

Questioning the need for a second coal transportation track from Goa to Karnataka, she urged prioritising people’s welfare over destructive projects. If work continues, Saldanha vowed villagers would protest strongly.

She demanded surveying houses near the first track before work on the second began. 

Locals also fear the Revenue Department may provide Railways with survey numbers for double-tracking land, despite lacking assigned numbers themselves.

Saldanha questioned how Railways can expand without assigned survey numbers when individuals would face legal consequences for construction on non-owned land. Locals have ownership documents proving land ownership up to the tracks, accusing the new survey of usurping ownership from rightful landowners to Railways. Their families owned the land before the first track, they added.

“Regarding the exercise to assign survey numbers to land abutting the existing single railway tracks through Goa, it has always been our contention that SWR does not have title documents for these areas. This was also confirmed in the High Court when the villagers who have Portuguese era inscription & description documents had challenged the land grabbing,” Rodrigues added.

“The very reason that SWR does not have survey numbers means that all their work and contention regarding the ownership of the land is invalid, illegal and should be stopped immediately. These are ancestral lands that are owned by the landlords who have inscription and description documents prior to 1961 that prove they own the land,” said Olencio Simoes, General Secretary, Goenche Ramponkarancho Ekvott (GRE).

“Even the land on which the existing single-track passes through our villages is private property. The government is only doing this to facilitate Railways from taking these lands and to give it the means to fight any litigation on this later,” Simoes said.


Iddhar Udhar