‘Legal’ Mining! Who’s speaking for the land?
Since mechanized mining began in the 17th century, it has left in its wake kilometers-long, surreal-looking, gaping gashes of devastation and toxic waste. While in the last century, many developed countries have implemented stringent regulations - if not always to protect the land, at least the workers and local population – developing countries have not been so judicious – corrupt governments and weak laws have been malleable to greedy corporates, and India is no exception. Unscrupulous mining has adversely affected native populations and land in states across the country – Odisha, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh …. among others.
As well as in Goa.
Iron-ore mining activities in this coastal Union Territory date back to 1905 when the then Portuguese rulers granted concessions and it became a roaring business, literally, earning Goa its maximum revenue with lakhs of Goans employed directly by the mines or in ancillary activities.
However, this manna for some also unleashed concomitant monsters of air, water and soil pollution, which alarmed many local residents, and a battle against mining was taken up by feisty activists, individuals, and communities.
It was especially galling to many Goans that their land was being gouged out for a mineral geared only for export because of its low Fe content and high silica presence, used to make steel that had an international not domestic market. And when this market soared, as it did between 2005 and 2012, legal and illegal mining reached its zenith.
But this loot was challenged, and in November 2010 a Commission was set up headed by Justice Shah, who inducted UV Singh, former Chief Conservator of Forests, Karnataka. Singh not only knew his job but more importantly, was believed to be a man of integrity, who had done an outstanding job in compiling a report on illegal mining in Bellary, Karnataka. Here too, his report submitted in 2012 revealed rampant corruption and callous irresponsibility in mining operations. In the face of such damning evidence, the Goa government had no choice but to ban all mining activities in the state – an order later reinforced by the Supreme Court.
As expected, this did not sit well with the mining companies that have been overtly and covertly demanding the mining to resume, which was allowed to a much more muted degree than before from 2015. But, this has been an issue of bitter contention, with anti-mining groups insisting that satisfactory compensation be paid to those workers adversely affected by the ban, as well as serious government efforts be made to train and absorb them in other sectors, like tourism.
(Members of Goa Mining People's Front)
One of the soft but steely instruments to press for this demand are the mine workers themselves, about 800 of whom were in Delhi to demand mining operations to resume immediately in Goa. They were color coordinated in black with their message boldly inscribed on the back of their shirts, as well as brandishing badges in front.
Their importance can be gauged from the fact that while thousands of unspoken-for farmers, laborers, cooks, jawans, railway workers, cooks, teachers …. can languish in the Capital for weeks, their protests unheard, the mine workers in Delhi got a sympathetic hearing from key political leaders from Goa, like Vijai Sardesai, who holds the portfolios of Town & Country Planning; Agriculture; Archives & Archeology; as well as Factories & Boilers; Vinod Palyekar, Minister for Fisheries and Water Resources Department; Jayesh Salgaonkar, Minister of Ports, Rural Development Agency and Housing with Housing Board department; Shripad Naik, Ayush Minister; Vinay Tendulkar, Rajya Sabha BJP member, to name a few.
(Puti Gaonkar, President, Goa Mini g People Front)
Sanjay Raut, the unsavoury Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha member from Maharashtra has called for the Prime Minister’s direct intervention to resume mining in Goa, while Goa’s power minister Nilesh Cabral has also extended full support to the mine workers, going as far as to threaten Claude Alvares, environmentalist, and Director of the Goa Foundation, the environmental monitoring action group that has been unrelenting in its anti-mining petitions: “ …. if ‘he’ challenges it, I know what must be done,” he told the mine workers.
It is indeed ironic that Goa is led by a band of thuggish representatives, who want to slash and sell its beautiful land to benefit foreign buyers – what they supposedly fought against the colonial rule for in 1961!