Friday, August 8, 2008

Wanted: A Peoples' Policy on Mining

By Hartman de Souza

The Gods must have smiled at their mischief when they created Goa. Below the majesty of the environment they placed another wealth which, in order to get to, some Goans would have to resist the temptation of greed. It is this singular fact that must be kept in mind when one views the Goa cabinet's decision to place their draft policy for mining before the public for discussion and debate.

While on the face of it, this seems an enlightened and timely decision, cynics may wonder whether such an exercise is futile -- given the current scenario of China needing our low-grade ore to mix with the high-grade ore they import from Brazil and which allows their ancient furnaces to run. It is this sees new stretches of Goa under threat and an array of participants anxious for the kill.

Villages in Bicholim and Sanquelim face a last-ditch battle to halt the mining that in one pathetic case has already ploughed its way through over 14 kilometres of fertile lands, rivers and forests, rendering them useless. At the same time,villages in South Goa, in a stretch from Sanguem all the way across to Quepem, gear for an unnecessary and time-consuming fight.

One can understand the righteousness, if one looks at the'public hearing' held at the Paikdev Temple at Maina, Quepem,the same day the cabinet decided it was time to open their draft mining policy to public scrutiny. At stake was Jolerancho Dongor, a tract of traditional forest, grazing and agricultural lands, over which Messrs Shantilal K and Brothers Pvt. Ltd. now want an old, colonial mining lease renewed.

Following 'due process' the company presented their 'Rapid Environmental Assessment and Environmental Management Plan' to residents of Cawrem and Maina. Their managers broughttheir supporters, truck drivers and men from the village theybuy drinks for at the local bar, and a hundred or so 'letters of support'.

Their power-point presentation would have been funny had the implications not been so serious. Played out as the farce it was, a lecturer in Konkani from a Ponda college duly translated slides in English projected from the company's laptop, which, because it was so bright, could not be viewed unless one stood a foot away from the laptop itself.

For those with a sense of humour, the laptop provided comic relief. One such gem and I quote verbatim, noted, 'The local people would rather than benefited due to the provision of infrastructure provided'.

Shantilal K and Brothers set aside the princely sum of 50,000rupees (approx US$1200) to replace the thousands of treesthey hacked down, Rs 120,000 (approx US$2850) for tankers to sprinkle water on the roads to assuage the threat of dust, and lest that be deemed unworthy, would 'ensure green beltdevelopment along the boundary wall of mine to reduce visual impact.'

What no one expected, least of all the Collector who arrived45 minutes late, was Paikdev's hall packed with women from Cawrem and Maina who came by open tempo, and seventy men andwomen who come all the way from Paroda in a bus chartered attheir own cost to show support to the women of the area.

Those dressed in skirts, and jeans and blouses and those intraditional nine-yard sarees touched shoulders in applaudingthe speaker after speaker who rubbished proceedings.

Some 222 letters of protest were filed. When one poor soul who sold his freedom-fighter father's land to the first mine in the area, stood up to plead for compromise and understanding, the women of Kawrem went to slap him while the company's lackeys hurriedly whisked him to safety!

That day close to 150 or so women went home charged with the energy of having voiced their opinion although, that samenight in the bars, the manager's lackeys boasted that they had already bought their 'clearances'. Their optimism,tragically, may be well-founded.

Joao Fernandes, a young lawyer from Quepem, categorically charged the mine with illegally operating without clearancesfrom the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) and indirect contravention of Supreme Court rulings of 2004 supporting the environment against mining operations in the Aravalli ranges of Dehra Dun. When asked later whether thecharge of being 'illegal' had any worth, the Collector hummed and hawed and said there appeared to be 'grey' areas in the law.

What he may not have wanted to say is both the Collector andthe Goa State Pollution Control Board can only act as'postmen' for the MOEF in New Delhi, where recordings and minutes of the Public Hearing will be cursorily glanced atand 'environmental clearances' granted a good six or sevenmonths after Messrs Shantilal K and brothers and friends havealready taken away two hills and are ready for the rest.

Even as this is being written lands in the surrounding villages of Ambaulim and Rivona are being used to dump mining rejects. If it's happened elsewhere in Goa, it can bloody well happen here, that's what the men in the bars are saying to us.

It seems germane that both the Centre for Science andEnvironment, New Delhi, and Goa Foundation, Mapusa, have published comprehensive studies early this year severely indicting the mining industry and worse, a committee withinthe MOEF that recommends mining proposals, conferring on themwhat is ironically referred to as 'environment clearance'.

First and foremost of course, one hopes that a mining policy from Goa will overrule the MOEF's blatantly pro-mining stance, although, in any case, both studies above must be thestarting point for any discussion and debate on mining.

One suspects that a policy taking these two studies in consideration and those too of the National Institute of Oceanography over the years, may well propose a blanket mine on open-cast mining in Goa for the next twenty years. In fairness before the law, giving that same time to the mining companies in Goa to rehabilitate the lands they have already devastated.

Reproduced in public interest from the Goanet Reader of August 07, 2008


PRAVIN SABNIS (Goa,India) said...

Hartman was always great at communication. Excellent article! May we have many more... cheers Pravin

cool_newmoon said...

Well expressed! !