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Protests in velsao village over Railways service track, work put on hold



The Rail Vikas Nigam Limited’s (RVNL) move to construct a 260m-long service track — called a station hub or track machine siding for changing engines or track repair — near the Cansaulim station in south Goa’s Velsao village has been temporarily halted following protests from local residents.

The work, which started over a week ago, was halted by the state police amid protests at the site Wednesday ‘to preserve law and order’ in the village. Officials said the work has been put on hold until a joint site inspection is conducted by RVNL and the Deputy Collector’s office Friday.

According to Velsao residents, the work site encroaches on private property. When contacted, S B Sahoo, General Manager of RVNL (Goa), told The Indian Express that the work is ‘on land owned by the Railways’.

On Wednesday morning, Velsao residents stopped RVNL site officers and workers from entering the work premises, claiming the access point itself is private property. The protesters also tried to barricade the point with mud brought in a truck, but were stopped by the police who detained the vehicle.

The site is adjacent to an existing railway track and abuts the Dabolim-Cavelossim PWD road, which runs through the village. On the other side of the track is a line of ancestral homes.

Orville Dourado Rodriques, founder of Velsao-based NGO Goencho Ekvott, said, ‘This is private property. We received no intimation from RVNL about the construction work. There is no agreement for land acquisition. The construction is on privately owned land, and the access to it is also owned privately by residents of Velsao…The police have threatened that we will be arrested.’

A senior police officer from Verna police station said, ‘We are bound by the law. If the residents approach court and get a stop work notice, work will be stopped. In the meantime, they are hindering official work.’

After over four hours of negotiations Wednesday, Salim Shaikh, DySP (Mormugao), said, ‘I have spoken to the Deputy Collector, and we have arranged a site inspection on Friday at 11 am. Along with the Deputy Collector, RVNL officials will also be present. Until then, we have agreed that no work will take place at the site.’

The existing track connects the Vasco-da-Gama line to Central Railways. According to information from RVNL, it was set up around 1902 as a narrow-gauge line, and later converted to broad gauge. In 2012, double-tracking was sanctioned for the line between Vasco Port and Hospet in Karnataka, spanning 352 km. Officials said 70-80 per cent of this work is complete while in some cases, as in Velsao, land acquisition is pending.

Olga D’Souza, 71, a former Velsao panchayat member, told The Indian Express: ‘The entrances to our century-old homes are a few metres from the tracks. We have no exit and vehicles cannot come to our doorstep. When we leave our homes, we have to climb up a mountain of stones alongside the tracks, and cross the Railway line to access the main road. As senior citizens, my husband and I do this on most days when we go for Mass. In case of an emergency, there is no approach even for a two-wheeler, let alone an ambulance. This problem is going to intensify with laying of tracks….’

An RVNL official said, ‘We have suggested that the Railways can construct an underpass for access, but the residents refused to coordinate with us.’

Local residents say they noticed construction on the service track about eight days ago on what they claim is property owned by a resident named Shaliny Victoria Barbosa Saksena. Saksena could not be reached for comment. At first, residents said, they thought that it was part of work for the double track.

RVNL authorities said the land is owned by the Central Government according to the official map of Velsao drawn up by the Directorate of Settlements and Land Records. But residents say they have property cards dating to the period before the East India Company to prove ownership.

RVNL’s Sahoo said, ‘We are carrying out the construction work on land owned by the Railways. The PWD road abuts the Railway line, and this is the only access point where we are not trespassing. There is no encroachment. Moreover, this project has got nothing to do with the plan for double-tracking the line between Vasco and Hospet. This is only a small siding.’