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Goa board says we were used as puppets

A Railway line, a highway and a power transmission line — since December and during the lockdown, the Centre has cleared three key Goa projects claiming a state panel had approved it. But now at least six members of that panel have come out to say they are unaware of the clearance and have red-flagged their environmental concerns. A Supreme Court panel has taken note, too.

Minutes of the meetings, one on December 17 last year and the other on April 7 this year, show that the projects were cleared by the NBWL which said that the Goa State Wild Life Board (GSWLB) “recommended the proposals in its meetings”.

On Thursday, the Central Empowered Committee constituted by the Supreme Court sought a detailed response within 30 days from authorities and companies involved in implementing and clearing the three projects following a complaint from NGO Goa Foundation.

Indeed, the Environment Impact Assessment reports of these projects by the Forest Department point to “fragmentation of important wildlife refuge” and “severe changes to ecological and ecosystem process”, and warn that they will “degrade soil quality” and “deplete aquatic reservoirs”.

“Since the project falls inside a National park and sanctuary, the clearance of the National Board is required, which is done. Now clearance under the Forest Conservation Act is required for use of forest land for non-forestry purposes. That approval is with the Ministry of Environment. The Central government will decide on FCA clearance based on available data,” he said.

Parag Rangnekar, who represents Goa Bird Conservation Network in the state panel, says the only “environment detail” discussed in the state meeting was the “number of trees to be axed”. “It’s appalling how these meetings, which form the basis for environmental clearances at the state and national levels, are conducted with lack of technical study, no quantum strategy for compensatory afforestation,” he said. Responding to these allegations, Kumar said: “They raised many issues, and the project proponents, the authorities from national highways and railways and whosoever was there, explained to them and accordingly a decision was taken by the Chief Minister who is also the chairperson of the Board. There is no provision in the law that says a development project has to be done by plebiscite. It has to be done by the competent authority

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