Friday, April 18, 2008

Its Dempos, Chowgules mining mania in Mayem, Bicholim

Mining of Iron Ore and Manganese in Mayem village of North Goa’s Bicholim Taluka have fetched rich rewards for the two mining companies – Dempos and Chowgules. Both began their open cast iron ore mining activities in 1949. After liberation Indian government have earned valuable foreign exchange. Hence – the Indian State have been financially benefited – through this trade. Mining companies have expanded their business into other sectors of economy like tourism, education, paints, beverages, metal works and navigation transport. Goa government since its liberation thorough armed intervention by the Indian forces in 1961 has been politically dominated by the mining lobby. State mechanisms in Goa have completely served as the executioners of the influential mining lobby.
Mining created huge economic gap between the villagers and the mining Companies – with corporate companies benefiting through the process in a major way.

The impact on the village agriculture has been highly disturbing. On the one hand mining silt has buried the cultivable soil underneath leading the fields uncultivable. On the other hand the springs which supplied water to local agriculture and village wells has dried up due to pumping out of water from the mining pits – thus interfering with ground water hydrology.

Mayem has been topographically in dream placement as far as water sources are concerned. Towards the beginning of the village as one enters from the Bicholim town is famous Mayem lake – which is threatened due to mining plunder by Dempo Mining Corporation.) While towards the end of village is Goyganache Tollem (Goinganem lake) – now threatened due to open cast mining by Chowgule mining company. Both these water bodies has served the village water needs for drinking, agriculture, horticulture and fisheries purposes. Mining however has imposed near catastrophic situation on the village with 300 village wells drying up from January to May each year for the past 25 years!

Mayem, village that is known for the rebellious tradition in the history of Goa’s freedom movement revolted against mining activity as early as 1978. However the revolt was crushed by the Free Goa’s State with 40 people being put in prison – unprecedented action which even outsmarts Colonial policies of Portuguese regime. Since then however State fear has prevented any king of opposition to the mining of ore from the village.

There are however reasons due to which the Mayem village has not been able to launch united fight against mining and its destructive consequences. The villagers are in the middle of another battle – the evacuee property.
The evacuee property represents structural continuation of Portuguese colonial policies. Portuguese colonial State had awarded the Mayem village land to one of its well wishers for the period of three generations for the control over the villager lands. Most of the evacuee land is residential, agricultural and Forests. As per the colonial agreement the land was to be returned to the colonial State after the third generation. And this happened in 1929; 32 years before Goa’s liberation in 1961.

The last legal heir then in order to keep the land under private control executed the Will in the name of his adopted son and the colonial State recognized this possession. Not strange considering colonial rule of Portugal! However this structural relationship was continued even by the State under Indian rule of Goa after 1961. This system makes control over the land by the villagers impossible. The villagers are rendered rootless from the land titles.
This rule however is not applied to the two mining companies operating in the village. Both the Dempos as well as Chowgules are relentlessly carrying on the mining activities within the jurisdiction of the evacuee property. The evacuee property therefore represents continued colonial policy for the benefit of the mining companies. The whole political set up of the State is party to this prolonged harassment of the villagers.

Mining and evacuee property – two issues though superficially looks different – they are intimately linked to each other. Both are off springs of Colonial system that needs to be abolished to actually set the process of liberation rolling.
Mayem has rich mountains full of evergreen forests. For generations people have been cultivating various types of crops. However with decimation of vegetation and destruction of mountains the entire life supporting system is under threat.

Sebastian Rodrigues after discussions with Ramesh Gauns and villagers of Mayem.
February 2003

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