Where does everyone stand on the Velsao anti-double-tracking protest? That would depend entirely on where one is placed in this small state.
If you are sitting in Porvorim, one cannot help wondering why people are protesting against double-tracking.
If you are in Velsao, you want to give the railways and perhaps a few people from Porvorim a bloody nose.
If you are the railways, you want to take a bulldozer and flatten the entire village of Velsao.
If you are the government, then you are with the people on Monday, the railways on Tuesday, the central government on Wednesday and the coal lobby on Thursday.
The people of Velsao are basically fighting to protect their land from an entity (railways) which owns a lot of land all over the country and does not have a clue about what it means to lose a house or coconut grove.
They are fighting against an entity which believes it has a God-given right to do as it pleases and where it pleases.
The protest by the people of Velsao is an echo of what took place in Chandor and other parts of Goa. I am referring to the protest against the double-tracking of the Vasco-Hospet line. The idea is to transport more coal to the steel plants in the Bellary region — like 14 million tonnes a year.
After more than a year of protests, Rail Vikas Nigam Limited finally relented and decided to realign the second track in order to save a few houses and some land.
But villagers of Velsao are not totally in agreement with the decision. Their contention is that RVNL cannot go ahead with work without express permission from the panchayat.
This might be good as a talking point, but in reality, RVNL does not need the panchayat’s permission to undertake any work.
The problem for the people of Velsao is Section 11 of the Railways Act. This section alone gives RVNL the pleasure of beating its chest and saying, “I am boss”.
As stated earlier, the people of Velsao were not the first to protest. The people of Chandor, under the umbrella of Ganv Bavancho Ekvott, took South West Railways and RVNL to the high court.
Their case was that these two entities had not taken permission under the Panchayat Act, the Irrigation Act, the Town and Country Planning Act, the revenue code, CRZ notification, the Environment Protection Act, building laws and by-laws and so on.
The High Court of Bombay at Goa after patiently hearing all parties to the dispute ruled that Section 11 allows the railways to build without seeking any permission under the above-mentioned acts.
The railways even have the power to alter the course of rivers, streams or brooks. The only exception to this section is land acquisition, and if the acquired land falls in a forest or national park/sanctuary.
One would ask, what sense does it make for the RVNL to undertake this project when the central empowered committee of the Supreme Court has said that doubling of the track between Castlerock and Kulem is not economically viable?
But then, when the central government and the railways decide to do something, nothing gets in the way. And that seems to be the case with this ambitious project to transport coal across Goa to Karnataka.
Sadly, the concerns of the people of Velsao will eventually be swept away by a 2600 horsepower diesel-electric locomotive.