How the government of India is turning Goa into a coal hub

A MEGA PROJECT IS UNDERWAY IN INDIA’S SMALLEST STATE. Goa, straddled by the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, will soon be a transport hub for coking coal. The fossil will arrive by ships from Canada, South Africa and Australia to the government port at Vasco da Gama. It will be carried by trucks, barges and trains along Goa’s beaches, paddy fields and hillocks and eventually across the majestic Ghats, through its dense forests and waterfalls and into arid northern Karnataka, where the high-grade coal will be used by factories to convert iron ore into steel.

The project involves more than doubling the amount of coal passing along this chain, and so a number of sub-projects are being executed: vast underwater trenches in the seabed to make it deep enough for massive coal-bearing ships; a widened network of highways and railways on beaches and in forests.

The execution of this mega project coincided with my beginnings as an environmental journalist five years ago. My years living in Goa coincided with the charged days of protests and public anger against the project.

This page is an effort to put together my work on the subject, and that of the other journalists in Goa who wrote incredible stories on the project.

As I write this in late 2020, the projects continue to be built, stumbling ahead in a haze of protests, courts, and tribunal cases. So this list is an ongoing project.

2016: My first story, about a National Green Tribunal judgement cancelling the environment clearance given to the project to deepen the seabed. This landmark order set off public hearings that ended up galvanising public opposition to the coal project.

September-October 2017: I assisted a team of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s investigative programme 4corners as they covered the Goa coal projects for their documentary about the Adani Group.

October 2017: Indian Express published a multi-part investigative series on the coal projects, written and reported deftly by senior reporter Smita Nair. The series reported issues with the existing coal operations and profiled the people and landscapes affected by the transport.

December 2017: Supriya Vohra, who is among my favourite environmental journalists, wrote a two-part series for the Herald about how a new highway to carry coal was wrecking an iconic (and idyllic) Goan village.

July 2018: The Express series had reported how JSW’s private terminal on the port, which handled the largest quantities of coal for its steel plant in Karnataka, was handling way more coal than what the pollution regulator had allowed it to. The regulator halted coal operations following the report.I wrote this follow-up on how the regulator later condoned these violations.

August 2018: While doing the above story I found out that while India’s environmental regulation massively evolved from the ’90s up to the present, the JSW coal terminal’s environment clearance was based on old (and more lax) laws.

February 2020: After a longish gap, I returned to reporting on the issue in early 2020 when the environment ministry issued clearance to two coal projects. I discovered that the clearance letter was plagiarised from a previous clearance to an unrelated project. So much for the record-breaking public hearings.

September 2020: I did an investigative report for Article-14 about 12 new road, railway and power transmission projects that are coming up in the Western Ghats without much scrutiny or regulation. About half of these projects are from the coal project.

To be continued…

When I wrote the first piece on the NGT judgement, I was a daily news reporter looking for scoops. I had no idea this story would follow me for years to come.

I am now working on a longform piece on another aspect of the coal operations, which has been ignored so far. The story is expected to be out in mid-2021.

If you want more information on this, including public documents that I used to report the stories, or want to convey your thoughts and ideas, or wish to collaborate with me for future work on the issue, write to me at nihar89 at protonmail dot com.

Thanks for reading.

I am an independent journalist interested in conflicts around mega-infrastructure projects in India.

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