No impact assessments, no mitigation: Wildlife clearances in Goa’s Mollem forests
About Mollem National Park
- Mollem’s forest cover is part of a near-contiguous stretch of Western Ghats. It is part of the core area of Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary.
- Spread over 240 sq km, Mollem National Park is located in Sanguem taluka in Goa close to the border with Karnataka.
- Mollem currently supports more than 70 types of mammal, 235 bird species, 219 butterfly species, 45 reptile species, 44 fish species and 27 amphibian species. It is home to key species such as tigers, leopards and Gaur.
- The forest also comes as an essential revenue source for nature-based tourism. Along with Dudhsagar, hundreds of river-feeders originate in the woods and act as a lifeline for Goa’s water supply.
The National Board for Wildlife
- The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) is constituted by the Central Government under Section 5 A of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (WLPA).
- The NBWL is chaired by the Prime Minister according to the WLPA. The NBWL has 47 members including the chairperson. Among these, 19 members are ex-officio members. Every new government constitutes a new board, based on the provisions of the WLPA, with the new PM as the chair.
- The National Board may, at its discretion, constitute a Standing Committee under sub-section (1) of Section 5B.
- The Standing Committee shall consist of the Vice-Chairperson (Union Minister in charge of Forests and Wildlife) the Member Secretary and not more than ten members to be nominated by the Vice-Chairperson from amongst the members of the National Board.
Environment Impact Assessment
- EIA can be defined as the study to predict the effect of a proposed activity/project on the environment. A decision making tool, EIA compares various alternatives for a project and seeks to identify the one which represents the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits.
- The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF), Government of India, under the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, has made Environmental Clearance (EC) mandatory for expansion or modernisation of any activity or for setting up new projects such as mining, thermal power plants, river valley, infrastructure (road, highway, ports, harbours and airports) and industries including very small electroplating or foundry units.
- Certain activities permissible under the Coastal Regulation Zone Act, 1991 also require similar clearance.
- The eight steps of the EIA process are presented in brief below:
- Screening: First stage of EIA, which determines whether the proposed project, requires an EIA and if it does, then the level of assessment required.
- Scoping: This stage identifies the key issues and impacts that should be further investigated. This stage also defines the boundary and time limit of the study.
- Impact analysis: This stage of EIA identifies and predicts the likely environmental and social impact of the proposed project and evaluates the significance.
- Mitigation: This step in EIA recommends the actions to reduce and avoid the potential adverse environmental consequences of development activities.
- Reporting: This stage presents the result of EIA in a form of a report to the decision-making body and other interested parties.
- Review of EIA: It examines the adequacy and effectiveness of the EIA report and provides the information necessary for decision-making.
- Decision-making: It decides whether the project is rejected, approved or needs further change.
- Post monitoring: This stage comes into play once the project is commissioned. It checks to ensure that the impacts of the project do not exceed the legal standards and implementation of the mitigation measures are in the manner as described in the EIA report.
Why in the news?
- Goa is seeing one of its greatest environmental protests. The SAVE MOLLEM campaign is drawing attention from all the people including celebrities and politicians. Let us know what is the history behind the campaign.
- During the lockdown period in April 2020, the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife had cleared 3 projects on Mollem forests. They are:
- 400 kv Goa Tamnar Power transmission Project lining from Goa to Karnataka
- Four-laning proposal for National Highway 4A
- The double-tracking of the South Western Railway line through the Ghats.
- All these projects have not done their environment impact assessment and all these were cleared without any mitigation measures.
- The transmission line laying itself may involve the felling of 5000 trees and further it is estimated that if all these 3 projects are initiated could mean the felling of over 30,000 trees, irreversibly impacting this rich ecosystem.
- Several agencies — ranging from the State forest departments, to the National Board for Wildlife — have powers under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 to assess projects coming up in wildlife-rich areas and impose legally binding mitigation measures. But these powers have not been exercised for the projects coming up near Mollem.
- The people of goa have come together against these clearances and are protesting to save Mollem forests.
- All three projects are still awaiting final forest clearance by the Environment Ministry.
- There is a hope as the Supreme Court has intervened and formed a Central Empowered Committee that would carry out site inspections in Goa for all three projects after it received a number of complaints on the manner in which the projects were green-flagged with no assessment to the threats to wildlife.
View all comments