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Mormugao Port Modernisation

Proceedings of an Environmental Public Hearing

Sherwyn Correia ( is studying at the V M Salgaocar College of Law, Goa.

The proposed modernisation and expansion of the Mormugao Port in Goa has drawn widespread criticism for its failure to seriously assess its environmental impact and lack of thought to sustainability and social costs, while raising questions on the ownership claim over the project area itself. A three-day environmental public hearing recorded the concerns and grievances of the numerous stakeholders and civil society members who stand affected by the proposed project.

Commissioned in 1885, Mormugao Port in Goa is one of the oldest ports on the west coast of India and is blessed with a protected open-type natural harbour. Accorded the status of a major port in 1963, it became the leading iron ore exporting port in India with an annual throughput of around 54.50 million metric tonnes (MMT) of iron ore traffic in 2010–11, of which 90% was exported to China (Economic Times 2011), accounting for over a third of the country’s iron ore exports. However the Goa government’s shutdown of mining in mid-2012, later confirmed by the apex court, wiped out about 80% of the port’s cargo volume in one stroke. The port’s fate was a classic example of the risks associated with a port that relies heavily on one commodity for its sustenance (Manoj 2012). Coal was the other major commodity being handled at Mormugao at the time—with 7.2 MMT handled in 2011–12—but the Goa State Pollution Control Board’s (GSPCB) withdrawal of “consent to operate” to open coal handling operations at two berths in September 2012 halved the commodity’s volume (Hindu 2012).

The two body blows triggered a new plan to convert Mormugao Port into a coal hub, and Goa into a coal transportation corridor. The idea found ample support in the controversial “Sagarmala” project of the union government that projected coal/coke handling at Mormugao to touch 49.2 MMT by 2035.1 Goa is witnessing massive surface transport infrastructure creation as part of “port modernisation” and “port-connectivity enhancement.” The focus is clearly on capacity enhancement for coal imports at Mormugao Port and its transportation through Goa into the hinterland in Karnataka.

Christened the “Modernization and Expansion of Port Infrastructure for Fishing, Coastal, Multipurpose Cargo Berth and Liquid/General Cargo,” one of the Sagarmala-funded projects came under scrutiny at the environmental public hearing held at Chicalim, Vasco da Gama on 5 October 2018. Proposed at a cost of₹ 646 crore, the project envisages development of a liquid cargo berth for petroleum, oil, lubricants (POL), including LPG, and a multipurpose cargo berth, besides a fishing jetty at Vasco Bay. Capital dredging of two existing berths was also bundled into the project profile.

Coal Conundrum

Coal has been a sticking point in Goa for years. Fine coal dust emanating from coal stacks of the Adani and South West Port Limited (SWPL)—a unit of Jindal Steel Work (JSW)—terminals at the Mormugao Port, and from trucks and rail wagons transporting coal have caused air pollution in Goa since the turn of the millennium (Gokhale 2017).In February 2018, the GSPCB withdrew the “consent to operate” that was granted to SWPL and shut down their operations for excess handling of coal, only to restore it in July 2018.

Goa has had a rather eventful history of environmental public hearings, an integral part of the public consultation process through which the concerns of the local people and those with a stake in the environmental impacts of the project, are taken into account. Public hearings on three coal handling expansion-linked projects2 proposed by the Mormugao Port Trust scheduled from 26 to 28 April 2017 at Vasco da Gama were unprecedented. They went on for eight days—extended by an unprecedented five days—lasting 82 hours in total. As the youngest speaker at the hearings, I narrated my own traumatic experiences of coal pollution during my childhood, and appealed to the authorities to give due consideration to the right of every child to a clean healthy environment when considering the proposals to expand coal handling at the Mormugao Port (Herald 2017). None of the three projects have received environmental clearances from the environment ministry till date; two of them have not even been placed before the expert appraisal committee for consideration in the last 18 months.

Public Hearing Submissions

The public hearing on the present project that was meant to last one day—5 October 2018—went on for three days, and for over 20 hours. Twenty-three persons, including lawyers, fisherfolk, fishing-boat owners, journalists, environmental activists and senior citizens, advanced oral submissions. Ninety-one written submissions were received during the hearing.

Sagarmala project: As the first speaker at the hearing, my submissions centred primarily around two points: First, that the coal-handling expansion proposals under the Sagarmala Project had deliberately been fragmented in order to conceal their cumulative impact, and that if these pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were put together, the larger picture that emerges is of a sinister plan to convert Goa into a coal hub and coal transportation corridor. The “Sagarmala: Plan for Mormugao Port” projects 49.2 million metric tonnes per annum (MMTPA) of coal/coke traffic in 2035 in an optimistic scenario, and 42.1 MMTPA in the base scenario (AECOM 2016). To achieve these targets, the major proposals include a₹ 3,150 crore double-tracking of the Hospet–Vasco da Gama broad gauge railway line (352.28 km),3 a₹ 1,000 crore rail flyover between Majorda and Madgaon to segregate goods traffic of Mormugao Port with main Konkan Railway line, construction of nine jetties along Zuari and Mandovi Rivers, the₹ 1,130 crore four-laning of National Highway 4A linking Goa to Belagavi (Karnataka), an outer harbour for iron ore/coal terminal west of breakwater, and a multipurpose terminal at Betul, all planned under the Sagarmala project. All these are in addition to other interlinked projects4 and the four projects referred to above. At the centre is the Mormugao Port, with 12 projects in its portfolio, four of which have since been completed.

In 2016, six Goan rivers were declared as “national waterways” to facilitate their development for shipping and navigation purposes. The perceived motive of this declaration was to exploit these inland waterways and allow for coal evacuation by barges to the jetties upstream, and onward transportation by road to the hinterlands (GoI 2016). The total planned investment is a whopping₹ 11,709 crore; a mammoth amount for the geographically smallest state in India. Therefore, instead of piecemeal hearings, there ought to be one public hearing for all Sagarmala projects and other interlinked projects, so that the cumulative environmental, socio-economic and sociocultural impact can be fathomed.

In addition to being part of Sagarmala, the project under scrutiny is directly interlinked with coal handling expansion plans for Mormugao Port. The POL berth presently at Berth 8 is proposed to be shifted into the Vasco Bay to free up Berth nos 8, 9 and barge berths for development of a coal terminal. A concession agreement for this proposal has already been entered into with Goa Sea Port Ltd (a Vedanta subsidiary) in September 2016 (Economic Times 2016).

Second, there was an absence of a serious socio-economic impact study, and further, no employment and economic benefits of the project were presented. The copy-pasting of content from other reports prepared by the same environmental impact assessment (EIA) consultant only confirmed that there had been no study done, and the employment potential for the local youth was non-existent. For whose benefit, then, is this so-called “development” being undertaken?

Port ownership: The project also brings to the fore the MPTs ownership title to the project site. Advocate Sávio Correia questioned this claim, and submitted that the land and water area under the project site belonged to the state government, since the Vasco Bay beach and the River Zuari water area was held by the Government of Goa under Section 14 (1) of the Goa Land Revenue Code as well as under the doctrine of public trust. The draft EIA report neither contained any reference to the proponent’s ownership title to the project area, nor did it state the survey numbers of the land or water area. Correia referred to the state government’s order granting 16.30 lakh square metres (sq m) to the MPT, and submitted that the MPT could only claim ownership over this area. This ownership claim cannot extend to the Vasco Bay beach5 or adjacent water area of the Zuari river. While the MPT relied on port limit notifications to claim ownership,6 Correia stated that port limits indicate the administrative and regulatory jurisdiction of a port for better governance and do not, ipso facto, confer ownership rights to the port over the area within its jurisdiction, save where the property is specifically owned by the port.

At the hearing journalist Avinash Tavares pointed out the inherent contradictions and inconsistencies in the EIA study, and raised questions about the water and electricity requirements, lack of amenities for the modern fishing harbour, medical treatment facilities in place in cases of casualties within the blast zone, and public evacuation procedures. Activist Dinesh Dias further pointed out that the GSPCB’s annual reports for 2016–17 and 2017–18 had declared the MPT to be the most polluted area in Goa.

Social costs: Among representatives of the fishing community and trawler owner associations who spoke at the hearing, Ronnie D’Souza, former President of the Goa Fishing Boat Owners Association, said that the fisherfolk of Vasco had been fighting for an exclusive fishing jetty for the last four decades and reminded the MPT of its several promises in this
regard that were never honoured. His concerns were echoed by Saluzinho Vaz, a fishing trawler owner, who stressed the need for handling of clean and green cargo at Mormugao Port, and a modern fishing jetty with infrastructure such as freezers, cold storage units, etc. Custodio D’Souza, a canoe owner, pilloried the MPT regarding their alleged dishonouring of solemn assurances given to the fishing community in the past.

The fishing landing jetty at Vasco has been at the western end of the Vasco Bay for the last four decades; its 85 metre (m)-long berthing platform is temporary and woefully inadequate considering the 250-odd fleet it caters to. The Vasco fishing community’s demand for a modern and permanent fishing harbour has been consistently sidelined by the MPT and the state government; the former at one point of time wanting the jetty relocated outside the Vasco Bay citing International Ships and Ports Facility Code (ISPS) compliance (Times of India 2009).

Another issue, flagged by Olencio Simoes of the National Fisherworkers Forum during the hearing, was that the fishing village at Vasco Bay had not been notified and marked on the plans. The 2011 Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification mandated that the “Government of Goa shall notify the fishing villages wherein all foreshore facilities for fishing and fishery-allied activities … may be permitted by the Grama Panchayat in the CRZ area;” this has not been complied with till date (MoEF 2011). Consequently, the traditional fishing community living on Vasco Bay beach are at peril of being displaced and deprived of their livelihood if the project sees the light of day.

Larger Agenda

The present port expansion project under scrutiny at the public hearing has to be seen through the lens of the union government’s single-minded pursuance to develop Mormugao Port as a coal import hub and Goa into its transportation corridor. Leave alone lack of thought to the sustainability and social costs of the so-called development, or the absence of any serious assessment of the environmental impact, it is the opacity with which the projects are being unfolded and implemented, keeping the people of Goa in the dark, that is a matter of grave concern. It only substantiates the demand for a single, comprehensive public hearing on all Sagarmala-related projects, which will make the Goan people conscious of the mammoth project that threatens to swamp their land and denude it of its pristine beauty. The consequent large scale in-migration would further imperil the low intensity lifestyle and hospitable nature of its inhabitants. To quote G S Patel’s landmark judgment in Goa Foundation v Ministry of Environment Forests & Climate Change (2017),

[Goa] is a land of abundant richness and of confluences, where diverse strands meet and co-exist; and, in a time of apparently incessant strife and discord, it is still a mostly liberal land… this is a land truly worth fighting for.

The objective of an environmental public hearing is to improve the quality of environmental decisions by identification and mitigation of impacts, and the prevention of environmentally unacceptable development (Wood 2003). The 5 October 2018 public hearing proved to be a demonstration of citizens exercising their right to participate in democratic decision-making, especially those decisions relating to the survival of their livelihoods and their future generations (Devaiah 2018). It brought to the fore the cumalative impact of the Sagarmala projects in the Goa, and the environmental repurcussions that would ensue if the submissions of civil society are not heeded to.


1 From current traffic of about 12 million metric tonnes per annum (MMTPA). See AECOM (2016).

2 The three projects were: “Terminal Capacity Enhancement at Berths 5A & 6A by South West Port Ltd,” “Capital Deepening of Navigation Channels for Cape-size vessels” and “Redevelopment of Berth Nos 8, 9 & Barge Berths.”

3 Hospet–Tinaighat section has been completed. The 58 km section within Goa is stalled due to local opposition and land acquisition constraints.

4 For example, the construction of the missing link of National Highway 17B at Loutolim to connect Mormugao Port to National Highway 4A.

5 Locally known as “Kharewaddo beach.”

6 Chief Engineer, Mormugao Port Trust to Sávio Correia, letter, 17 March 2018 (in author’s possession).


AECOM India (2016): ‘Sagarmala: Master Plan for Mormugao Port,” 10 August,

Devaiah, Tania (2018): “Modernising Mormugao Port May Not Be the Ultimate Answer to Goa’s Problems” Wire, 13 October,

Economic Times (2011): “Highest Ever Iron-ore Exports from Goa Ports this Fiscal,” 8 September,

(2016): “Vedanta Inks Pact for Redevelopment of Mormugao Port,” 22 September,

Goa Foundation v Ministry of Environment Forests & Climate Change (2017), PIL Writ Petition No 22 of 2017, High Court of Bombay at Goa judgement dated 11 October 2017.

GoI (2016): “National Waterways Act, 2016,” No 17 of 2016, 25 March,

Gokhale, Nihar (2017): “Fishermen, Grandmas, Priests, Politicians and Activists Reject Plans to Make Goa a Coal Hub,”, 10 May,

Herald (2017): “Teen Taunts ‘Polluting’ MPT, Says Don’t Taint Vasco Further,” 6 May,

Hindu (2012): “Mormugao Port Banned from Handing Coal, Coke,” 26 September,

Manoj, P (2012): “India’s Top Iron Ore Port Hit by Goa Mining Ban,” Livemint, 5 December,

MoEF (2011): “Coastal Regulation Zone Notification S O 19 (E),” Ministry of Environment and Forests, 6 January,

Times of India (2009): “MPT to Shut Khariawado Jetty,” 21 January,

Wood, Chris (2003): Environmental Impact Assessment: A Comparative Review, Second Edition, Harlow: Pearson, p 275.

Updated On : 7th Dec, 2018


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