TIMES NEWS NETWORK
Panaji: For the 12 students of the government primary school at Sonshi in Sattari taluka, the first wondrous years of learning are a test of endurance in a school located amid the noise of mining machinery, the dust of mines and the sight of red earth all around.
“The view from this school is not of green fields and birds. The children here grow up seeing only red mining dust,” said anti-mining activist Seby Rodrigues. Through a slide presentation to the media, Rodrigues portrayed how mining has adversely affected the primary school in Sonshi. However, he added that the Sonshi is only one example of how mining has affected the primary education of young children in many parts of Goa. The study was conducted by Krishnendu Mukherjee, a lawyer and environmentalist.
The school had about 600 square metres of land around it when it started in 1964. Subsequently, four mines came up around the school with a fifth mining company setting up its beneficiation plant in front of the school. “Now the school has only about 250 square metres left. Clearly there is an encroachment by the mining companies. There is mining overburden dumped up to 10 meters from the steps of the school,” said Rodrigues.
The study shows how during the monsoons, polluted rainwater runs close to the school. At other times of the year, the children have to bear the elevated noise and dust levels within the school caused by heavy machinery and trucks. The study expresses fears that the mining slurry may contain arsenic and cause contamination due to polluted waters. According to the study, the Goa state pollution control board has not conducted any tests on air, water or noise pollution surrounding the school.
Mukherjee said that one aim of the study is to establish whether there are violations by the mining companies and also by the education department. ‘Mining should improve the local economy. But here we have a case where children are adversely affected by it. Our study is ongoing and we are waiting for evidence of violations. On the face of it, this seems to be the case. We will give our findings to the government and the mining companies,” Mukherjee said.
His research began in April 2008, but information has been hard to obtain. The education department “failed to give any proper responses” under RTI. Also, the lone teacher at the school is reluctant to say anything for fear of losing his job. And may be his life. After the teacher spoke to the researcher, a guard was posted outside the school for few days. The teacher has requested for a transfer several times. All his requests have been denied.
Has the number of students at Sonshi school decreased? Mukherjee said he is awaiting this information which he has applied for under RTI from the education department. But apparently, the children of Sonshi do not have much of a choice. The next government primary school is in Sanquelim, 10 kilometers away.
Times of India, September 24, 2009, Panaji