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Coal on move, 25 tonnes a minute, is choking Goa, more is on the way

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Nearly 25 million tonnes of coal — evenly spread across a standard football field, this toxic black mountain will rise almost 3 km into the sky. That is the amount that will be unloaded each year at the Mormugao Port Trust by 2020, just three years away. By 2030, official records attest, this is slated to double — up to 51.6 million tonnes each year.

In 2016-17, 12.75 million tonnes of coal was unloaded at the port and carried across Goa to power stations and refineries in Karnataka and beyond. By a clutch of importers, the biggest ones being JSW Steel Ltd and the Adani Group. And Vedanta — together they are The Big Three — which currently imports coal for its pig iron plant in Goa, is set to ramp up an additional 1.2 million tons of anthracite, 2.6 million tonnes of coking coal and 2.1 million tonnes of thermal coal for its proposed steel plant in Karnataka’s Bellary.

[FONT=&quot]Over a four-month-long investigation, The Indian Express found that coal that arrives at the port takes three key routes, road, rail and river (see map below), that slice deep wounds in the ecological heart of the state.[/FONT][FONT=&quot]The Indian Express travelled along each of these routes, following coal trucks and wagons, on a 600-km trail, to find that the transport of such huge amounts of coal is putting at risk entire habitations in villages and towns. The coal dust is blackening lungs, pushing up incidents of respiratory disorder; it’s threatening fragile forests, paddy fields, countless streams and rivers, at one place even a tiger corridor, at least two sanctuaries, and an entire hill.[/FONT][FONT=&quot]Interviews with scores of residents, transporters and local administration officials and an investigation of port records show glaring gaps in the state’s regulation of this transport.



[FONT=&quot]In villages across central Goa, men, women and children speak of how the “devil’s dust” (fine particles of coal) has changed life itself — scarred by soot-covered homes, a lethal cocktail of respiratory ailments and a ruined ecosystem. “We take pride in being conscious of our ecological status, our beaches, our orchards, our cultivation land. Most of our youth have left the state for lack of opportunity and now when these coal corridors are being designed, there is the danger of losing our indigenous identity, too,” says Dolvyn Braganza, 25, a teacher and part-time paddy farmer and vegetable grower in Utorda.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“India comes to Goa for its vacation. This is not just our problem, this is your problem, too. Once we become a coal hub, it will be too late. Nobody likes a black Christmas,” says Braganza whose ancestral farm is located near the “coal tracks”.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Currently, official figures show that, on average , 34,200 tonnes of coal is transported each day through the rail route from Mormugao port via Vasco, Margao and Kulem into Karnataka through Hubli and Hospet.[/FONT]
‘This is abuse of life’

On the other side, are people and their way of life.

Savio Correia, from Vasco, is one of the legal warriors who continues to file applications under the Right to Information Act to fight the port — its coal plans are at the centre of a protracted battle in the courts but more of that later.

Talk to the 48-year-old about this coal trail and he describes trains that already pass near the backyard of his house in Vasco as “tarpaulin-covered graves”. “The tarpaulin covers fly against the wind. The coal they import is very fine dust, they fly across the tracks, enter our homes. If this is the kind of pollution and devastation we are facing now, what will we face with 50 million tonnes? This is abuse of life,” says Correia.

On the main road route through which trucks take coal past the 447-year-old St Andrew’s Church in Vasco town, Father Gabriel Coutinho says the coal dust can be seen on the prayer benches. “The first group of worshippers in the morning mass suffers the worst. The trucks ply in the night. By the morning, the black dust settles on the benches and the fans. When we start our prayers, switching on the ceiling fans, the coal dust spreads and falls on the worshippers. The first morning mass always begins with sneezes,” he says.

On the proposed water route, the fishing unions are the first to sound the alarm. Says Olencio Simoes, vice-chairperson, National Fishworkers’ Forum, “The dredging will collapse river beds and cause floods in neighbouring villages. Also, this will amount to violation of CRZ (Coastal Regulation Zone) norms as mangroves will be cut or destroyed along with the destruction of corals and reefs, turtle nesting grounds, horseshoe crab habitats, sea grass beds, mudflats, and nesting grounds of birds.”
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