Thursday, December 24, 2009

Agitations against mining in Goa

By Sebastian Rodrigues
November 2, 2009

It was 1st April 2001 that my mind first got agitated on the issue of open cast iron ore mine in Goa. It was at one august gathering of environment lovers in Old Goa that one youth –Vassudev Porob- from Pissurlem village of Sattari taluka in Goa got up to intervene in the discussion on Mhadei river diversion by Karnataka Government thereby depriving Goa of water flow. Vassudev Porob sharply focused on his water rich village yet not a single drop existed in village wells due to continuous pumping out of water by mining companies thereby depleting ground water. Hence agriculture was not getting water; cultivation of paddy was becoming impossible. He barely finished speaking for couple of minutes when a scientist and former director of National Institute of Oceanography Dr. Untawale sprang up from his chair to scold Vassudev for speaking against mining in public. I still remember his words “You must never discuss mining in public”. My instincts instantly got me up standing up and challenging Dr. Untawale and to declare that not only we should speak loud against mining industry in Goa but also invited everyone at the meeting to a sit –in or Dharna outside the office of mining company in Goa’s capital city of Panjim.

This for me was my first participation in agitation against mining industry. After that it was huge learning experience, very often understanding through roving of boat backwards in time to know what to expect in future that spread vast open before my mind. Every month one visit to Pissurlem became my discipline for the next three years. Learning was not easy. Every visit would contribute towards weakening of my chest that was already weak with tuberculosis as my first 14 years has been in mining area. Memories of my childhood and playing with dust were constant companion on every time I would visit Pissurlem. It downed on me that while my family was rotting in dust from 1973 to 1987 - till we left the place as sickness refuse to stop hounding us as dust made life impossible – there was none to raise the voice and protest. I was happy that my family survived the ordeals of my childhood and early youth to speak out today.

For the past nine years I witnessed various agitations in mining belt. Also came to know about number of others before that, those that never entered public conscious beyond narrow confinement of their village. Those were the days of mining Raj. Everything was controlled. Everything includes human mind. Press was largely owned by one mining company or the other. And those who protested and got arrested like the revolt of Mayem villagers in Bicholim taluka in 1978-79 hardly found press coverage or reported as merely criminal cases. During this period over 70 people protesting against mining company was arrested and revolt suppressed. One of the silent features of revolts against mining over the past three decades in Goa is that it remained local and was ruthlessly suppressed through arrests by Goa police. In addition of course that it never entered the pages of newspapers and history. So the politics of memory was at play here. The ring masters of this politics were mining companies-state nexus.

Agitations in Goa’s minng belt has been spurred for various reasons. In Pissurlem it was because of refusal of additional bucket of water that a villager Pandurang Porob was attacked by Chopper and causing injuries to his legs. Pissurlem is totally at the mercy of mining companies to supply them with water after village wells, springs, natural tanks, and ponds are rendered dry by unsustainable open cast iron and manganese mining carried on by at least 5 mining companies.

Another villager Hanumant Porob was arrested and imprisoned for protesting against mining silt in the village agricultural fields that once prided itself being highest yield giver in the Sattari taluka. Mining companies have not yielded to the demands of the Pissurlem villagers are compelled to get into mining trucks business themselves. There cannot be any greater tragedy than this one unfolding in Pissurlem.

Colamb village in Sanguem taluka is blessed with people who refused to barter their land for money offered by mining companies. As a result there has been number of protests against the mining companies. Number of times Police force is pitted against them and arrests are effected. There are at least half a dozen charge sheets filed against Colamb villagers in various combination and they now has to regularly report themselves to the Courts in Quepem and Sanguem towns. People from various other parts of Goa – including those from Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA), Ganv Ghor Rakhan Manch (GGRM), Goa Foundation, and Nature, Environment, Society and Transformations (NEST) has also regularly visited and offered solidarity to the Colamb villagers. Gawda, Kunbi, Velip and Dhangar Federation (GAKUVED) played important role to support Colamb villagers from 2007 till date and helped to make it State level issue through the morcha it organized on December 10, 2007 Human Rights Day in Quepem. Brother Philip Neri de Souza has played very crucial role in Colamb resistance from 2001 upto 2007. Colamb villagers due to their resolute decision to oppose mining were even threatened with ‘Tadi par’ by then Police Inspector at Quepem Police Station Santosh Desai. ‘Tadi par’ sentence is meant to prohibit the villagers from entering into the administrative jurisdictions of South Goa.

On one occasion nearly ten people from Colamb protesting against mining were arrested, criminally charged and photographed at Quepem Police Station with slates around their necks. This is a practice used on hard core criminals. Industry-Police nexus in this manner sort to de-legitimize and criminalize the protests against mining industry in Goa.

Uncompromising stand of Colamb villagers against mining industry attracted higher level of collusion between Fomento mining company and the Leader of the Opposition Manohar Parrikar and in June 2008 People of Colamb along with author of this article was tagged as Naxalite in the Goa assembly. This however instead of daunting the spirit of the protest of the Colamb villagers further widened across the State of Goa. The jam packed meeting on 23 June 2008 at T.B.Cunha hall, Panjim will be remembered in the books of history as creating a wave of second liberation of Goa from the mining industry.

After this attempt of the mining industry was foiled Fomento filed defamation suit against the author of this article for Rs 500 crore in Calcutta High Court stating that the company is has suffered losses in business after some customers read the blog and terminated their contracts to buy ore from Fomentos. This scare tactic again failed as the rising public opinion against mining industry further popularized the online writings of this author.

Dora de Souza, a woman aged 80 plus chained herself to the mine operated by Dinar Tarcar in Maina, Quepem in October 2009. She along with 7 others were arrested – four were beaten up by mining company’s goons led by Subhas Phaldesai, Balli South Goa Zilla Parishad member- criminal cases filed and imprisoned for two days.

Motes Antao from Colamb has been arrested number of times. One month ago he was arrested by Goa Police stationed at Quepem Police Station because he filed application under Right to Information Act 2005 asking the detail information on assets held mining trucks owned by police officials including PI Santos Desai who is currently posted at Margao Police Station. Motes was called at the police station under the pretext of collecting information sought under RTI and detained over some case the Fomento mines manager in Colamb had filed against him ten months earlier.

Lawyer John Fernandes was charged for attempt to murder during a lathi charge on villagers of Ambaulim, Quepem in December 2008. Several people were injured during the lathi charge on villagers that were protesting against dust pollution caused in their village by mining trucks. Several people were arrested and criminally charged. PI Santosh Desai led the Lathi charge on protestors.

Determination of Colamb villagers infused courage to number of other villagers affected by mining industry. Advalpal in Bicholim revolted in May 2008 in spite of earlier compromises with the mining companies. Over 70 people were arrested and criminally charged. Akash Naik, a nine-year-old school boy supported by Goa Foundation in September 2009 got a stay order from Goa bench of Bombay High Court against marauding Sesa Goa mine owned by british corporate Vedanta listed on London stock exchange.

Sirgao villagers in Bicholim taluka revolted against this 40 year old industry in village and filed Public Interest Litigation in Goa bench of Bombay High Court. High Court appointed Nagpur based National Environmental Engineering Institute (NEERI) to conduct a scientific study. NEERI report submitted to the Court stated that agriculture and water bodies are negatively affected by three open cast mines operating in Sirgao village. NEERI in another case in the Goa Bench of Bombay High Court submitted a report that June 2009 floods in Advalpal was caused due to mining activities in the village.

Wide spread nature of protests against mining has led to the emergence of coalition of mining affected villages in August 2008. It is known as Goa Federation of Mines Affected People (GOAMAP). GOAMAP has raised the issue of mining destroying Goa’s ecology and livelihoods at number of forum. On September 22, it raised the issue with banks financing Vedanta mining company at a meeting organized by Bank Track from Netherlands and Urgewald from Germany held at Amnesty International Headquarters in London.

Large number of People across the board has lent their voice and support the movement to defend Goa from being swallowed by mining industry. They are artists, teachers, writers, professionals, People in Media they have done it in the way of their own. Few deserve special mention Kurush Canteenwala who was prison colleague of this author at Margao Judicial Custody in October 2008 has made a video documentary on Goa’s mining struggles titled – ‘Goa Goa Gone’. We both were assaulted in Maina while filming protests led by 82 year old Dora de Souza accompanied by her daring daughter Cheryl de Souza Sanfransisco and other supporters including Fr. Mathias D’Cunha. Police force led by PI Santos Desai colluded with the mining company goons and merely watch protestors being beaten up. He then arrested and criminally charged the protestors and did nothing of those who were involved in the attack though he was a personal witness. Present on the occasion Kurush made superb documentary and few days ago on 30th October 2009 it won national award for best Environmental documentary at Vatavaran Film Festival organized by Centre for Media Studies in Delhi. It is Indian Nation lending its voice to rising wave of voices against mining industry in Goa.

Ramesh Gauns, a teacher from Bicholim has successfully blocked commissioning of Zantye’s iron Ore mine at a village where he has been teaching for the past over two decades – Sarvona in Bicholim taluka. He used agitation modes as well as judiciary to his advantage.

Claude Alvares and Norma Alvares have rendered huge service to the State of Goa. This Alvares couple has several occasions successfully used judiciary against mining industry. Latest has been thwarting attempts by mining industry to mine Goa’s Wildlife Sanctuaries.

Sangamitra Mainkar, Prabhakar Dhage, Wendell Rodricks, Maria Aurora Couto, Venita Coelho, Hartman de Souza are other notable people that has lent their valued loud voices to the protests against mining in Goa. Trade Unionist Christopher Fonseca in Television interview in June 2009 referred to the protest movements against mining as “Prophetic Voices and Goa is lucky to have them.” Voice of protest against mining industry can be heard from Colamb to Sirgao, Nuem-Khola to Advalpal, and Bicholim to Usgao. This is a beginning of change in power relations and power structure in the State of Goa.

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