Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Turtles, Minerals and People in Goa

By Anjoli Bandyopadhyay
December 12, 2003

On November 30, 2003 three people from the Forest Department and the Ministry of the Environment “inspected” the beach in Morgim, a small coastal village in Goa. Their official mandate was the protection of the Olive Ridley Turtles that lay their eggs on this beach at night. If the turtles are disturbed or if their nests are raided for food, turtles will not return to Morgim beach. According to Forest Department officials, this is one of the few beaches in Goa that still has Olive Ridley Turtles nesting on it. These turtles are also known to lay eggs on beaches in Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and in the neighbouring state of Maharastra. So Goa, as a “state,” has an interest in protecting the Olive Ridley Turtles on the beach in Morgim.

The “inspection” of the beach resulted in the demolition of several “beach shacks” that serve food to tourists. These beach shacks are built of bamboo and are run by local entrepreneurs. The Forest Department had several recommendations one of which was the immediate removal of the unlicensed shacks that were pushing back sand dunes and encroaching on turtle nesting areas. The turtles are not threatened with extinction but the Forest Department Officers are intent on protecting them and attracting a certain kind of tourist to Goan beaches. They mentioned the need to cater to “upscale” tourists who will pay more to see the turtles, and dolphins and clean beaches.

Some shack owners are not convinced that the Forest Department is merely intent on protecting the turtles. The shack owners are mostly locals whose fathers were fishermen or toddy tappers who have chosen to work in Goa’s tourist industry, second only to the mining industry. They fear that the Forest Department is paving the way for large five star hotels to establish themselves further inland and that they will lose their lucrative but small businesses catering mostly to lower income English and European office workers and partying Israeli youths. The shack owners are already struggling with the government’s rising licensing fees which were raised from 15000 Rupees per annum to 50000 Rupees per annum and then dropped back to 15000 Rupees.

The fight for the survival of Olive Ridley Turtles began in 1996 when a concerned inhabitant of Morgim wrote to several organizations about the need to protect the turtle nests. The Goa Foundation, an environmentalist group, responded and with the Forest Department started patrolling the beach and convincing the locals not to eat or sell the eggs. In fact the Morgim villagers and shack owners actively participated in the turtle protection “programme.” However, the action may not be having its desired effects now that the Forest Department is targeting Morgim for five star hotels. The villagers of Morgim are quite rightly asking themselves whether they or their children will reap the benefits of tourism on their beach. In fact many of the villagers are already unemployed and poor or employed in Kuwait or Canada. The five star hotels will not be owned and run by local people but by the same people who own Goan forests, plants, fertilizers and mines.

Mining, tourism, and agriculture are now the main sources of income in Goa. These resources are all land based and at present there is a struggle for use of these lands. Goa has what is called extensive laterization, that is, vast underground brick formations of iron ore and manganese. One estimate of Goan iron ore reserves is 600 to 800 million tonnes. Other minerals found in Goa are bauxite, quartz, and saline clay. The laterite formations of iron and manganese ore store water and as Goa receives heavy rainfall, there has never been a shortage of water for forests and agriculture. Goa is also blessed with at least 265 days of clear sunshine every year. People have been growing millet, rice, vegetables, fruits, areca nut, cashew, coconut, and mangoes. However, as mining continues and the iron ore reserves are depleted, water shortages, water contamination and flooding are becoming major problems affecting the state’s agricultural economy and outlook for the future. The most common complaints are dry wells, drops in the water table, and silt deposits in the fields and rivers.

Pissurlem, North Goa

The situation in the village of Pissurlem, North Goa, is very serious. Damodar Mangalji & Company (DMC) started its mining activities near the village of Pissurlem in 1947. The villagers were already relocated twenty years ago to accommodate the mine and accepted compensation for their land. Five hundred families were living on the land currently occupied by the mine and one hundred and fifty farmers were granted compensation for their land as per the Ministry of Agriculture guidelines. Some of the villagers have not received their compensation yet. A road was built to transport rejection ore but many of the villagers opposed its construction. In 1992 people started blocking the roads to protest the illegal dumping of rejection ore on Forest Reserve lands. Many of the villagers, including Hanuman (?), were arrested and had to fight the mine in the courts. In fact, the villagers have many complaints and are considering not selling more of their land and relocating a second time as the mine expands.

Their main concerns are the shortage of water for their fields, contamination of their drinking water, dust pollution and silt deposits in their fields. This open cast iron ore mine has already created a large pit below the natural groundwater table resulting in a water reservoir filling the pit. The mine is draining the pit of water with pumps in order to access iron ore and diverting the water towards a river that flows out to the Arabian Sea. The villagers have asked that the water be diverted to their remaining fields for agriculture but the mine is refusing to do so. The farmers are not as productive as they were before due to shortage of water. The springs and wells have dried up and the villagers must rely on water pumped in to a village tank by the mine. They are drinking water that contains mining silt and are experiencing many health problems such as diarrhea. Their children are visiting doctors twice a month. They are also breathing in mining dust and many people are suffering from asthma and tuberculosis. Their fields are muddied with silt and they cannot grow enough rice.

There is an ongoing struggle between the inhabitants of Dhatwada in Pissurlem and the mine owners for basic rights and control over the remaining land. DMC is intent on displacing this village to a different locality and extracting the ore beneath their fields. The villagers have noticed "cracks" in the land and in their homes due to the mine's blasting activities and have asked that their homes be rebuilt on safer "agricultural" land in the area. They are asking for "155,320 Sq.mts of agricultural land" and the company is stalling by asking for legal proof. The company's offer "in order to save time and come to amicable settlement" is twofold; the company claims that it "cannot find any land in the vicinity fit for agriculture and equivalent to the area claimed by the residents of Dhatwada" and "proposes that if the villagers are agreeable it would transfer an area of 50,000 Sq.mts in Saleli yielding rubber plantation and about 75,000 Sq.mts of similar land in Kumarkhand." The company's alternative is that the Government acquire the land at the cost of the company and "the villagers be paid cash equivalent of their interest." The villagers don't want to be dependent on mines or rubber plantations for their livelihood. They want sustainable agriculture on their fields.

The social impact of mining on the Pissurlem villagers has been very negative. A recent article from the Herald cites a study showing that "those in mining areas suffered from higher duration of sicknesses, frequency of sickness and consequently intensity of sickness." The Pissurlem villagers report that people from non-mining villages are not responding to their marriage proposals. It is especially difficult for them to bring girls in from non-mining villages as people don't want to live in the mining dust and drink the water from the reservoir tank and polluted milk. Girls from Pissurlem seek husbands in non-mining villages. Women who worked in the fields twenty years ago no longer work in the fields and stay at home. Women who worked in the mines twenty years ago have lost their jobs due to the mechanization of loading. The only jobs available to women are serving water to the male labourers. There are only three women from Pissurlem employed in this way. The children of Pissurlem go to a school built not even 50 metres away from a rejection ore dumping site.

The villagers do not believe that the mine will provide them or their children with adequate employment opportunities now or in the future and they wish to successfully cultivate their rice paddies. Many men are unemployed. Only four villagers were "compensated" with trucks to transport the ore. The people of Dhatwada have asked DMC "to provide two permanent employments to each family as per their qualification." The company has refused to do this as "it cannot employ any more employees as it is already having surplus staff." The company adds that "almost all of the families of Dhatwada have at least one of their members working with the company." But according to the villagers, of the 700 people living in the two wadas of Dhatwada and Panchawada, only 32 men are working at the DMC mine, 8 men are working at the Sesa Goa mine and three women are working serving water at both these mines. And the villagers are already thinking about how they might earn a living twenty years from now when there won't be any more iron ore to extract from their land.

Rivona, Sanguem Taluka, South Goa

(Two neighbouring) villages in Sanguem in South Goa have similar stories. One village has been relocated as was Pissurlem. Only this time, the people were displaced by the government in order to construct a dam.. The Portuguese had constructed good dams (where) two rivers (meet and) the people of this village and neighbouring villages were cultivating rice and sugarcane). But in the name of "agricultural development," three villages were displaced and (split into six wadas) They were placed on dry lands with dry wells) and expected to) cultivate sugarcane and not rice (because rice requires water every four days). (Many people) , are not producing enough sugarcane to survive, have turned to drink and have taken loans to pay for food and drink. They no longer have a staple supply of rice to eat. While the villagers cannot eat due to water shortages, private pipelines take water from the government dam to five star hotels owned by (Dempos and Timblos). The villagers speak of corruption in the village panchayats.

In this region, communication is difficult as people are afraid to talk. Corruption, harassment and much monitoring of village activities prevents people from speaking about their lives and connecting with other people. Some of the tribal women working in a mine have to walk up and down hills for an hour and a half, morning and evening, to get to work and home again. They are watched by supervisors who are not local; these managers often accompany them home and prohibit them from speaking to anyone on the way. Some locals have reported sexual exploitation in the mines. The mining companies also employ sweepers for the public roads that their trucks use for transportation of the ore. These roads are damaged by frequent use and covered in mining dust. The sweepers are usually placed near shops and bars used by the locals and people are constantly watching each other and listening to what is said. When outsiders arrive and visit the Kushavati River, which is public, mine employees are dispatched to enquire about identity and take photographs of the visitors. If an outsider associated with a villager makes a phone call at a public pay phone, that phone number is tracked.

In Mushcaurem village, one or more members of the families have worked with the Timblos mining company. In Sunita's family, her sister Surehka worked in the mine located only 300 metres away from their land and home. She worked there for three years but had to stop when she had constant headaches and started losing her eyesight. Sunita's family is now surviving on the milk they sell from the cow Sunita's mother brought in as dowry on her wedding day. The family can no longer cultivate its own land and has been forced to work on other peoples' land. Whereas they used to get twenty bags of rice per year, now they only get seven. The reasons are always the same. The wells have gone dry and their fields are silted.

The mining company wants to expand its operation and routinely hands out applications for compensation to the villagers. Timblo industries and the Goa government filed an application under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, to mine the ore on forest land used by the villagers of the Mushcaurem and Colomba villages. But the villagers are resisting this attempt to displace them for the ore. They want to continue living off their land and they have written to the Forest Advisory Committee that "these high mountains which are a part of the Western Ghats form a natural watershed, that bring forth water through countless perennial springs, which we use for drinking, domestic purposes, irrigation of crops and dairy farming."

The villagers also complain that the Forest Department evicts them from forest land for wildlife conservation that is then turned over to ganja plantations and mining operations. They used to hunt for wild boar in the forests but the Forest Department routinely patrols the forest to keep hunters out. However, the Forest Department turns a blind eye to the illegal mining taking place on these same reserve forest lands. The villagers, including Sunita's father Saptu Faterpekar and Anil Sawant, note in their letter to the Forest Advisory Committee that since 1996, "the diversion of forest land under Forest Conservation Act, in the above mentioned Survey Nos., was clandestinely being done."

On November 30, 2003, after protests and road blocks in Dandolem near Muschaurem, the government finally sent "inspectors" from the Panjim area out to the Sanguem area to monitor mining activities in the wildlife conservation areas of Verlem, Tudov and Salgini. Mining companies were aware of the inspection and stopped their operations. The village youth stopped the trucks at Kevona knowing that these trucks were involved in illegal mining activity. Some of the villagers had accompanied the government Field Officer on the inspections. However, later that evening, the mine owners arrived with formal permissions to mine from the Forest Department and the trucks were released. Again, the Forest Department doesn't seem to be too interested in protecting wildlife. As soon as illegal mining activities are challenged by the people, unrestricted "permissions" are given to mining companies in conservation areas. But the forests are vigilantly patrolled to prohibit Sunita's father from occasional hunting.

The Problem

The Portuguese seriously started mining activities in Goa in 1906 by granting mining concessions to certain Goan families in exchange for land, conversions to Christianity, liquor and women. These concessions were granted in perpetuity with the government merely reserving the right to supervise the extraction of ores. The lucky families, known as the “Goan industrial houses” still own the mines that are in operation today in spite of several attempts to redistribute and regulate mining activity. After “Liberation” from the Portuguese in 1961, the Indian government enforced the Mines and Minerals Act 1957 by distributing eighty new mining leases. However the new government did not cancel the Portuguese mining concessions. The mining concessions were to be abolished in 1987 with the Goa, Daman and Diu Mining Concessions Act, also known as the Abolition Act. But the mine owners successfully challenged this in court and have been able to continue their activities. So today, the Chowgules, the Dempos, the Timblos, the Salgaocars, DMC, Sesa Goa and others basically own the laterite iron and manganese ore reserves in Goa and have been given free reign to deplete these reserves without providing for the land or its people.

Mining, forestry and agriculture in Goa have a long history of association. Forestry began with the Fransiscan and Jesuit priests in the sixteenth century who needed teak wood to build Churches and for ship building in Portugal. The Jesuits were the first to plan “reforestation” with teak plantations and in 1771 the Portuguese set up an office for agriculture and forestry together. The forests came under state ownership and were divided into Reserve Forest and Protected Forest lands. The government has complete control over activities in the forests. In 1958 the Directorate of Agriculture and Forests and the Directorate of Mines were brought under one combined Directorate. The Forest Conservation Act came about in 1980. Some indications that the Forest Department works in tandem with the mine owners have been gleaned by the Goa Foundation; Goa Foundation reports that while official data states that only 480 hectares of forest lands were used for mining, the TERI (Tata Energy Research Institute) Report notes that 2528 hectares of forest land disappeared between 1988 and 1997 alone. The Forest Department has more of an interest in protecting mining companies contributing to the "development" of Goa's economy than in protecting the land, the people and wildlife.

The main mining lobbies in Goa are Dempo’s, Salgaoncar, Timblos, Sesa Goa, and DMC. Dempos claims to have been birthed in 1600 with “a fleet of small sailing crafts called Pangayas set sail.” This enterprise, "launched by the Dempo family” has grown to encompass mining, carbon manufacture, publications, and five star hotels on Goa's famous beaches. According to one report, the Dempos own almost the entire fishing village of Siridao. Salgaoncar, Timblos, Sesa Goa and DMC have remarkably similar profiles. All own and fund colleges in Goa. All of them own major publications and all of them are shareholders in five star hotels. Several of them are into construction and have a history in shipbuilding. Timblos, founded by Gurudas Timblo, has mining leases, beneficiation plants, magnetic separation plants and more significantly, barge fleets. Chowgules, with "modest beginnings in 1916…. had been exporting tin scrap, coconut oil, wood and bamboo to the Middle East..." also owns breweries, colleges, shipbuilding companies and construction companies. The turtle protection programme in Morgim was as much about fighting hunting and gathering of turtle eggs and the five star construction lobby as fighting the fishing trawler lobby. The government and the Forest Department use the conservation of Olive Ridley Turtles as an excuse to clear the way for Dempos and Timblos and Salgaoncar hotels on Morgim beach and bigger fishing trawlers owned by these same mining barons. Like turtles and minerals, the people are generally silent.


Anil, one of Sunita's neighbours in Mushaurem, South Goa, has never worked in the mines but his parents and his sister Prema did. Prema quit Timblos after two years because of "harassment." She, like Sunita's sister Surehka, was also suffering from constant headaches. Anil is fighting the mine as he has noticed that his land is no longer as fertile as it used to be. He sees the silt deposits in his fields and notes the declining yields. He grows rice, cucumbers, coconuts and other vegetables. Several years ago, he took government advice and swapped his cow dung fertilizer and seeds developed by his ancestors for seeds and fertilizer sold to him yearly by a company called Birla. Birla is also a major mining company in India responsible for the extraction of bauxite in Andhra Pradesh. Anil is now wondering whether the seeds and fertilizer he is now depending on are actually increasing or lowering his productivity. He is looking into returning to "organic farming." His practices are fostering a dangerous dependence on the corporations that control all of Goa's resources. In short, mining companies, with the help of the state government, have been systematically evicting people from their land and destroying traditional "sustainable" agriculture in Goa by mining, by leaving silt deposits, by leaving water filled craters, by creating water shortages, and by selling seed and chemical fertilizers to the farmers.

Birla Group is now a multinational corporation from Calcutta primarily in mining, cement, and jute. EMIL, a closely held company of the AV Birla group, is engaged in three diverse businesses - mining of iron ore, manufacture of ferro alloys, and the manufacture of woven sacks catering primarily to the packaging needs of the fertilizer industry. The Birla group is also involved in the extraction of phosphates for the manufacture of fertilizers. Phosphorous is the main component of nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium fertilizers used on food crops throughout the world. In 1999, Birla Group of India and Office Cherifien des Phosphates in Morocco started a joint venture in mining phosphates in Morocco and Birla uses almost two thirds of the production in its fertilizer subsidiaries in India; now Birla must sell its fertilizers. So Birla, like other MNCs has yet another vested interest in mining forest lands for the extraction of minerals and in destroying traditional "sustainable" agriculture of villagers in India.

No comments: