On a hot afternoon in North Goa’s Uguem village, Bhagyashree Mahale, a homemaker and mother of three, gets ready to attend a family event. Her destination is the town of Banda, 10 kilometres away from her village and located on the border of Goa and Maharashtra.
Bhagyashree has made this trip several times over the years. However, her commute has become dangerous of late.
Uguem rests alongside National Highway 66 (NH 66). Recently, the Goa government widened a stretch of the highway near the village, rebuilding the roads at an added elevation of 3 metres. This means there is now a 10-foot wall in front of the side of the village that faces the highway.
While people could earlier easily hail a shared taxi or bus from the road, they now have to stand squeezed against the railings of the highway in a metre-wide service lane. Because of the lack of space, the lane has become increasingly accident-prone. “I am afraid of the oncoming traffic, but I have no option other than to power through,” says Bhagyashree.
The construction has created another challenge for the people of Uguem, whose agriculture fields lie across the road. There was a time when the farmers could simply walk from one side of the road to the other; however, this is not possible any more. “How are we supposed to farm?” asks Uday Mahale, a local farmer from the village.
“It has caused a huge problem for our village,” says Vinayak Mahale, former sarpanch of Uguem. “The chief minister had promised to bring this elevated road to ‘zero level’. Now, our demand is that the government should at least make a subway for our people, cattle, and machines.”
Although protests were staged by the locals in October 2023, little has come of it. “Some of the locals tried to fight this, but nothing happened. I’ve given up hope now,” says Bhagyashree.
Maitreya Prithwiraj Ghorpade is an independent environmental law practitioner and reporter with Land Conflict Watch.
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