SINCE THE Konkan Railway Corporation was adamant about going ahead with the project despite protests from environmentalists, Goa Foundation secretary and activist Claude Alvares decided to take the matter to court. In April, shortly before the court adjourned for the summer vacation, he filed a writ petition, but it was immediately dismissed.
Alvares argued that the KRC should be asked to stop work until an environmental clearance had been taken. This was imperative since the authorities had neither conducted a satisfactory environmental impact assessment nor did they have an environmental management plan.
But the judgement delivered by Justice M L Pendse of the Panaji High Court rejected the petition. Observed Pendse, "The corporation is right in the contention that the provisions of the Environment Act have no application in respect of work undertaken in exercise of powers conferred under section 11 of the Railways Act, 1989. Section 11, inter alia, provides that notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, the railway administration may, for the purpose of constructing or maintaining a railway, make or construct in or upon, across, under or over any lands, or any streets, hills, valleys, roads, streams or other waters, rivers as it thinks proper." According to the judgement, "The provisions of the Environment Act do not bind the construction or maintenance of a railway line."
While this exposes the weakness inherent in Indian ecological legislation, Pendse made it clear that he had no time for environmental concerns: "No development is possible without some adverse effect on the ecology and environment but the projects of public utility cannot be abandoned."
A frustrated Norma Alvares, who pleaded the case, remarked, "We were not asking for realignment or any such thing. All we wanted was a satisfactory impact assessment and damage management plan." The petitioners have now moved the Supreme Court, where the case is likely to come up shortly.