By Claude Alvares
The aam aadmi Government of Digambar Kamat is getting increasingly unhinged about protests against mining, as the events on World Environment Day – and the day earlier – disclose.
On 4th June, 2008, a busload of some 40 women and children (and some ten males) on its way from Advalpal near Assonora to Panaji was trailed by police vans up to Porvorim. The bus was carrying villagers who do not want the mines of Sesa Goa, Lithoferro (Timblos) and Anil Salgaoncar to operate any further in their village. They intended to carry out a peaceful satyagraha outside Sesa Ghor. Normally, the villagers would have gone by public bus. Considering that there were some old women and children in the group, the villagers decided to pool in money and recruit a private bus.
When they reached Porvorim they were in for a shock. Their bus was stopped at the Porvorim circle before the Secretariat and turned off into a side road. The driver was asked to dismount and taken to the Porvorim PS. Someone contacted me on my cell, so I rushed to the spot.
There was the Goa Armed Constabulary, petite girl police comically weighed down in Ninja turtle costumes and police inspectors everywhere. There was even an inspection of every vehicle going on at the entry to the Mandovi bridge and further down, there were further police reinforcements. I was told that at Sesa Ghor, which was going to be the focus of the Advalpal villagers’ visit, there was already heavy security – private and police.
I attempted to reason with the police officials at this unwarranted deprival of civil liberties. I called up the Home Secretary, Mr J.P. Singh, to complain. He said he would speak to the police. The bus was, however, emptied of its passengers and taken to Panjim PS. We then met Bosco George, SP, who repeated what other police officers had told us a few minutes earlier: their intelligence had indicated, they said, that people opposed to mining from south and north Goa would be descending that morning to block the Mandovi bridge!
And right enough, we were soon informed on our mobiles that police had descended on Colomba village in Rivona (south Goa) to ensure that villagers from there – opposing a mine run by the Timblos – would not leave the village. The villagers were surprised because except for deputing one or two people, they had simply no plans to join the Advalpal demo in front of Sesa Ghor.
After the activists submitted a written note to Bosco George – that this was a routine protest dharna before Sesa Ghor; that most of the group comprised women and children; that there were never any plans to block traffic – the bus was restored to the protesters and it was allowed to proceed further. The police, however, followed the bus to Sesa Ghor, and the women Ninja turtles lined up along the high fence guarding the building.
Sesa Goa is now owned by Anil Aggarwal of Vedanta fame, one of the richest metal merchants of the world. But here was the aam aadmi government of Diggu Kaka providing this amir aadmi with police and guns as if he were going to be physically assaulted. The gates to Sesa Ghor were pad-locked and the public was not allowed by the police to even send some of their representatives into the building to present a memorandum to Sesa that their mine was not wanted at Advalpal. The private security was actually redundant as the police did the job of gate-keepers. What a wonderful democracy!
Faithful to modern forms of Corporate Social Responsibility, Vedanta’s Sesa Goa hid behind the skirts of the women ninja constables. They did not think it appropriate to walk down and meet the agitators and understand their concerns. Mind you, this was no huge union march organized by Christopher Fonseca, but a small group of poorly nourished women and children and they had come to make a point. They were really incapable of throwing stones. They had no stones. But they had serious concerns: of survival, livelihood, health, their environment, their future. Sesa Goa, the Timblos and Anil Salgaonkar were guests in their village and guests should never trouble their hosts. In any case, guests should leave if they have overstayed their welcome.
But the police department of the aam aadmi administration was responding as if these protesters were a bunch of terrorists out of Al Qaeda.
Later, when the people decided to go to the Pollution Control Board nearby, the police insisted on sitting by while Advalpal residents explained their problems patiently to Dr L.U. Joshi, Chairman of the Goa Board.
This tradition of acting as keepers of the bold and the booty-ful was repeated the following day (June 5th) when the villagers of Colomba organized a simple two-hour World Environment Day function at Sulcorna in Sanguem. The armed constabulary was there again, with several police Sumos, and police force in buses plus assorted CID. The 80-odd people who attended the meeting from various parts of Goa were in splits! They had not even a demo planned and the Government had practically called in the army! So this is how the government of Digambar Kamat celebrates World Environment Day!
Ironically, the newspapers on June 6th reported that the Mineral Foundation of Goa had planting a sapling at Bicholim. One mining company alone, that of Dr Prafulla Hede, was officially granted permission to fell 2800 trees on Government forest land within one km of the Mollem Wildlife Sanctuary. Besides these, he went on to destroy another 1000 metres of forest adjoining his lease illegally, for which the forest department gave him a notice of closure. Other mining companies destroy dozens of hectares of forest every year, legally and illegally. So government was appreciative that the Mineral Foundation planted a sapling on World Environment Day.
On June 5th, Sesa Goa purchased advertising space in the TOI to announce “green mining”. We all know that whitewash has been replaced with “greenwash”.
But what connection do the police have with mining companies? As far as I can fathom, the police department is not responsible for the problems caused by mining. They do not get a share of the profits. They get none of the foreign exchange. They are dragged in only to act as an unwilling buffer between the victims of mining and the mining companies who are afraid of the people and their protests. For this thankless role of a tasteless sandwich, the police only receive everyone’s torrential abuse because their activities are seen as a needless harassment of the public and a violation of human rights. The mining companies that are the source of the problem never get into the picture.
The aam aadmi administration feels that by overwhelming protesting citizens with armed constabulary and strangely dressed policewomen, the protesters will be cowed down and retreat. No chance of that happening at all! But that such monumental repression of people’s environment concerns was allowed on World Environment Day itself serves to underline how environmentally insensitive and aam aadmi unfriendly the Digambar Kamat government has become.
Pubilished in Herald, Panjim
June 10, 2008