SC panel against rail double-tracking project in Goa

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(Eds: Adding Congress' reax) Panaji, Apr 27 (PTI) The Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee has recommended revocation of the permission granted by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) for double-tracking the South-Western railway track which runs through Bhagwan Mahaveer wildlife sanctuary and the National Park at Mollem.

The double-tracking project has been strongly opposed by environmentalists who claim that it will threaten the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats.

The opposition Congress said the CEC's recommendation vindicated the party's claim that the ruling BJP is all out to sell Goa to a 'crony club' by destroying the environment and identity of Goa.

The panel, in its report dated April 23, said it did not find any justification for undertaking the rail double-tracking project which will destroy the fragile eco-system of the Western Ghats- an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot and also one of the most important wildlife corridors of the country.

'Moreover, this doubling project will only be marginally enhancing the capacity of the most inefficient section of the railway network passing through the ecologically sensitive and bio-diversity rich tiger reserve, two wildlife sanctuaries and a national park,' the committee said in its 110-page report.

'In these circumstances, it is recommended for the consideration of this Hon'ble Court to revoke the permission granted by the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) for doubling of the railway track passing through the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats...,' it said.

Several locals groups had raised objections over three linear projects, including double-tracking of the South Western Railway line, four-laning of a national highway and laying of a power transmission line by the Goa Tamnar Transmission Project Limited (GTTPL).

The projects were cleared by the NBWL's standing committee despite apprehensions that they would severely affect the bio-diversity of the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and the National Park at Mollem, both located on the Goa-Karnataka border.

The committee was formed following an application filed before the Supreme Court by the Goa Foundation NGO.

The Congress had claimed the railway line was being double-tracked to allow the movement of coal from Goa's Mormugao Port Trust to Karnataka.

Leader of Opposition in the Goa Assembly, Digambar Kamat, issued a statement on Tuesday saying, 'the report of the Central Empowered Committee has vindicated our stand that the BJP is all out to sell Goa to Crony Club for making fortune by destroying the environment and identity of Goa'.

Kamat demanded Chief Minister Pramod Sawant clear his stand and write to the Centre to stop all the three projects.