Closing the Enforcement Gap: Community-led Groundtruthing of Environmental Violations in Mormugao, Goa

The Mormugao Port is located at Vasco bay in the Mormugao taluka of Goa at the point where the Zuari river meets the Arabian Sea. This region is home to thousands of fisherfolk from the Karvi community who live along the beaches of Mormugao, Salcete and Tiswadi talukas. It is a natural  harbour that provides safe haven for ships and fishing vessels during storms, like it did in 2017 when cyclone Okchi hit this coast. The lives and livelihood of these fisherfolk are intrinsically linked to the activities of Mormugao port as they have had to share their customary livelihood areas – the sea and the beaches – with the port. This has resulted in them competing for space for their daily activities like fish landing, boat parking, net mending, and even housing with the port and its infrastructure development on the landward side, and competing with larger shipping vessels for navigation space and access to certain parts of Vasco bay. The Mormugao Port was commissioned by the Portuguese in 1885 and over many years developed 5 berths for import and export of oil, cashews, wine, iron ore, etc. Iron ore export gained importance after 1948. After liberation in 1961, the Mormugao Port was declared a Major Port by the Government of India in 1965. It was after this that major infrastructure developments began at the port and by 1994, the port had built its 11th Berth and soon after this coal handling began in earnest. Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) is now one of India’s oldest and largest ports with 11 berths of which 6 are leased out to third parties. The port handles cargo like coal, iron ore, woodchips, steel coils, gypsum, bauxite, ammonia, other dry bulk, petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL), and also services cruise ships. In March 2017, it came to light that the MPT was in the process of seeking environment clearance (EC) for three proposals to expand and modernise its existing facilities. Residents of Vasco and the fishing villages around the site realised this when notices for public hearing under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of 2006 were issued in local newspapers. Of these, two proposals were for coal handling capacity enhancement and modernisation of existing Berth 5a 6a and Berths 8 & 9 and barge berths respectively. This was despite long standing resistance from the people of Vasco da Gama in Mormugao taluka and other citizens of Goa against coal handling and resultant pollution. It was in this backdrop, that a community led groundtruthing study was initiated in April 2018 by Old Cross Fishing Canoe Owners Co-op Society Ltd, Baina Ramponkar, Fishing Canoe Owners Society, Destierro Fisherman Association – Vasco, Goenchea Raponkarancho Ekvott (GRE) and the Centre for Policy Research (CPR)-Namati Environmental Justice Program with support from concerned citizens of Vasco and the Federation of Rainbow Warriors. Impacts that community members were facing due to coal handling at MPT were identified through multiple discussions and the main issues that emerged were:

  • Increased coal dust in the homes and other areas near the port as a result of open coal handling at the berths, open transportation by trucks and wagons.
  • Respiratory issues like asthma attacks especially in children and the elderly.
  • Water pollution from spillage during transport of coal through waterways in barges and washing of barges. Runoff from the stockyard into Vasco bay was also cited, where the fisherfolk of Kharewado, Baina and Desteiro primarily go fishing on a daily basis.
  • Threat of eviction of fisherfolk living along the beaches abutting MPT in Kharewado, Baina and Desteiro areas for expansion of port activities and road connectivity.

This groundtruthing study is also an attempt by the affected community members to understand the environmental impacts of these berths, link them to the regulatory requirements and push for the compliance of the same.