By Pradnya Gaonkar in Goan Observer, Panaji, October 17 – 23, 2009
Nine-year-old Akash Naik from Advalpal has taken on the mining lobby, which has already destroyed large tracts of land in Goa and threatens to obliterate the remaining green patch in the state. Akash Naik has filed a petition against Sesa Goa, charging them of unlawful mining activity in Advalpal. He has also alleged that the company has managed to extend its expired mining lease. In an interim order, the Goa bench of Bombay High Court restrained Sesa Goa from any mining operations at the firm’s Advalpal mining lease.
Nefarious mining activity is a long standing grievance of the community in Advalpal as it has adversely affected many lives in the region. Akash’s petition has jolted the leading mining company owned by the UK-based Vedanta Group. The company, led by Anil Agarwal, recently made headlines when it bought mining leases worth Rs.17.50 billion from Dempo Group. Akash has been backed by the Goa Foundation, which is pursuing several litigations against mining firms.
Akash, in his petition, has expressed concern over the destruction caused to agricultural lands, the source of livelihood for around 2000 people residing in the area. The water bodies, which are essential for farm holdings, are chocked due to mining rejects dumped near human settlements. The rejects are being dumped in mining pits. The rainwater drains off these sediments in nearby water bodies and fields, destroying cultivable land. Although the same situation is prevalent in other regions of the state where mining takes place, the side effects are especially acute in Advalpal and Sarvona. In June 2009, when the first rain showers hit the state, villagers residing in Advalpal and Poire in Bicholim faced the consequences of irresponsible mining activity. In areas like Gaonkar wada and Voilo wada in Advalpal, water from the reservoirs dug to collect rain water gushed down the red mined terrain, overflowed and rushed into the houses of those residing at the foot of slope. The mining silt in the water contaminated houses, garden and fields, leaving them uncultivable.
Ramakant Gaonkar’s fields and those of a several others were left thickly layered with red mine silt. At Voilo Wada, the heavy flow of mucky water damaged the rear wall of Atmaram Naik’s house. To avoid the mine sludge running down the slope in fields, huge reservoir are dug to accumulate rain water. Large pipes are placed along the slope to drain out water from the mines into canals. The water from these canals is diverted to these reservoirs. According to the villagers, the reservoir built initially could not sustain the amount of water and eventually another reservoir was dug up to divert overflowing water. But the continues heavy showers of rain filled all the reservoirs. The mud in the area became damp as a result the outer walls of the canals and the reservoirs collapsed. This led the water from the canals down the slope into the houses of those residing in the area. The farmers who used to cultivate their fields once in a year are now left with no fields to sow the crops. The thick sludge in the fields are crude iron powder dumped at the mines. This slurry hampers crop growth leaving the farmers helpless. The draining of reject in the fields has become an annual phenomenon for those residing in these areas.
ZANTYE & CO
Ramesh Gauns, an environmentalist and member of the Goa Federation of Mines Affected People (GOAMAP), has highlighted another case involving Zantye and Company Pvt Ltd. In a petition filed before the Delhi High Court, Ramesh Gauns had challenged the order of National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA) dismissing his appeal against the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) for granting Environmental Clearance to a project where a public hearing was conducted even before the approved Environment Impact Assessment report was prepared. The Delhi High Court took cognizance of the casual manner in which appeals were dismissed by the NEAA without much application of mind.
Zantye and Company Private Limited’s mining lease covers an area of 72 ha in Sarvona. Ramesh Gauns has alleged that Shantaram Zantye, owner of the company, submitted a false affidavit before the Goa State Pollution Control Board to get NOC by quoting a Total Estimated Investment of Rs.278 lakhs. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by I.N.Kolar, general manager of Trimurti Exports, a registered firm which agreed to pay Rs.11.10 crore for an area of 5,80,333 sq ms out of 7,20,000 sq ms. Gauns has alleged that Shantaram Zantye (the lessee) is in breach of the provision of Deed of Lease where the state government is a lessor (part 7 of the covenants of the lessee/lessees, transfer of lease 17,18). Gauns has also claimed that Shantaram Zantye made a false representation through I.N.Kolar during the joint Site Inspection requested by the Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) in December 2007. I.N.Kolar also represented Zantye and Co pvt Ltd in matters of NEAA though he is respondent in the matter in the court of the Deputy Coilector Bicholim (Case No SDM/BICH/133/CRPC/2006/04) where he is listed as general manager of Trimurti Exports.
Also, this is the only mining lease in Goa which exists on the banks of the flood prone river in Bicholim. Therefore, the lease is subject to termination under section 4 of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957. It has also been observed that the mine was not operated continuously for more than 20m years. Therefore, the lease should have been terminated by the state government as per Rule 28, lapsing of leases under the Minerals Concession Rules 1960. More importantly, the Tillari irrigation canal passes through the leased area, covering approximately 38,000 sq ms of land.
Land acquisition was challenged in the High Court by the project promoter. The petition hearing went in favour of Tillari irrigation. The state government has spent Rs. Eight Crore on disilting of River Bicholim as a precautionary measure in May 2009. These vital issues relating to the case were not considered by the NEAA in its order. This led the Delhi High Court to direct the NEAA to rehear the Sarvona Mining case. The government authorities are also allegedly trying to conceal the ill effects of mining by ‘tempering’ with the annual official production figures. The Department of Mines reported that the production of iron ore in 2001-2003 from this mine was 15 tonnes while the Indian Bureau of Mines, Fatorda has stated that there was no production till 2007. The report of the Environment Impact Assessment prepared by the project promoter was approved by the Controller of Mines (South Zone) Bangalore with ore to waste ratio as 1:3.41 whereas the Indian Bureau of Mines report on ore to waste is 1:8.56.
The M/s Zantye Company has submitted Annexure to form 1(a) for NOC from the Goa State Pollution Control Board which lists varying figures on waste. As per the Environmental Clearance and Annexure to form 1(a), the area needed to dump rejects is 716.503 ha but, as per the Environmental Clearance and Indian Bureau of Mines, the area actually required is 596.2974 ha. “Every violation and erroneous data has been brought to the notice of the concerned department and also to the Chief Secretary and Chief Minister, but they have not responded to these allegations since 2007. According to the modification order from the Controller of Mines South Zone, the project promoter has to appoint a manager and statutory officials as per the Mines Act 1952, but this has not been complied with,” underlines Gauns.
The mining menace in areas like Bicholim has drawn the interest of people across the world, especially when a mining giant like Vedanta is involved. A group led by Adv Krishnendu Mukherjee, a barrister who spent 13 years in the United Kingdom, is now fighting against Vedanta group’s activities in Bicholim. While researching the ill effects of mining carried out by the firm, Mukherjee discovered that mining had effected the education of children residing in the area. A small village called Sonshi in Sattari taluka was selected as the study area. There is only one government primary school in vicinity with 12 students and one teacher. In the year 2003, Sesa Goa started a beneficiation plant close to the school premises. There are a total of five major mines operating in the area, but the Sesa Goa plant is the closest and the largest. The mine is located a mere ten meters away from the school, causing serious health hazards to the students.
During the study, they found no running water available in the school which was also affected by the high noise and dust levels. Mining slurry containing arsenic was causing contamination of near by canal water flowing behind the school. It was indeed breach of statutory duty and of the right to education Department which did not show any concern to the issues of the students studying in this school. Since it is a government primary school, mining was carried out by encroachment on government lands. It is indeed surprising that there has been no test carried out by the government authorities to study the impact on environment. When Mukherjee and his group tried to speak to the teacher was hesitant to speak as she was apprehensive of being pressurized by the department heads. A day later, a guard was posted near the school to interrogate visitors.
When the group tried to retrieve information under the Right to Information Act regarding education standards at schools, the Department of Education responded that there was only one school in the entire village. “It is obvious that the Education Department is not concerned about the depleting standards of the school and is giving a free hand to violators,” avers Krishnendu Mukherjee. “No studies have been carried out by the so called environment and social welfare monitoring authorities in these areas to point out the impact of mining in Goa. The actual picture is worse than one can imagine. Mining cannot be termed as an industry in Goa, but the government still considers it the backbone of the state’s economy. If mining was an industry then, according to the Atlas map prepared by the Indian Bureau of Mines, it should be ten kilometers away from any water body. But most of the mines in Goa are along the banks of rivers,” points out Ramesh Gauns.
The overall mining scenario in Goa needs to be reviewed as the figures mentioned by Gauns are a cause of great concern. In North Goa, the Mandovi catchments area, which covers 980 sq ms, has ten mines in its vicinity. Every year, 270 tonnes of mining rejects are dumped in the Mandovi catchments area and 33.33 tonnes in the Zuari catchments area. Around 1800 barges ply in the Mandovi system and 1500 in the Zuari. An analysis of these figures reveals the alarming fact that reject sediments dumped in the rivers increases turbidity in the rivers increases, decreases light penetration and, in turn, affects marine eco systems. According to figures in the Economic Survey, the fish catch in the state has dropped over the last two years, which can be correlated to mining. The ore to mine reject ratio in Goa is 1:3, which means that only one part of the ore extracted is used where as the remaining finds its way to fields and water bodies.
In spite of the agitations and cases piling up in various courts in the country, the government appears to be ignoring the unlawful and irresponsible business carried out by mining companies. While it is understood that the mining industry employs a large section of the population and contributes to the economy, it is imperative that those involved are ‘responsible’. If the disastrous effects of mining are obvious to a nine-year-old child, why isn’t it to the government?