Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mining promotes Poverty in Goa

By Sebastian Rodrigues

Approaching the theme

Natural economies were very common as the penetration of capital was limited. This is in spite of Goa being Portuguese colony till 1961. Geological survey began in Goa in early 20th century and first mining lease was granted in 1929 by the Colonial Portuguese regime. The actual mining activities began in 1940s and the first consignment of iron ore exported to Japan in 1948 to begin the economic recovery of that war-torn country. It was entirely manual mining then till the decade of 1970s when the mining sector in Goa began to be mechanized. With manual mining it was not possible to dig deep into ground for iron ore, manganese and bauxite and disrupt ground water flow. Mechanized mining made this possible in effectively in 1980s. Mining has never been nationalized in Goa and it remained entirely a private sector even in the rest of the country mining sector was nationalized.

Natural economies prior to entry of mining refer to direct dependence of people for livelihood on nature. The contacts were more direct without any kind of mediation. Their labour was the only mediation. It is labour that was required for the cultivation of paddy and harvest bumper crops. It was labour that was required in order to get their daily quota of fish. It was labour that was required in order to cultivate various types of vegetable in the and available with abundant supply water from natural sources. It was labour that was required for the people in mining belt to carry on their slash and burn agriculture –shifting agriculture - on top of hills. It was labour that was needed in order to collect various kinds of ripe fruits on the variety of trees in the forest. It was labour that was required in order to go in search of edible roots for their staple food. It was labour that was invested into going into the forest and collecting various forest products and then to transform them into various products for daily use such as brooms, mats, medicines etc. The large number of people in Goa’s mining belt are tribals for whom the barter economy – including exchange of labour for labour was a most respected norm in the functioning of their life and economy that was harmoniously integrated with ecology.

Feudal economies that emerged in Goa during Portuguese colonial regime chiefly due to the focus on written record keeping procedures adopted by the colonial state. The people – tribal as well as others for whom written record keeping by the State was alien concept did not understand the state insistence of piece of paper a indication of land ownership. A class of people that helped to sustain the colonial power of Portuguese in Goa were able to understand this and colonial power bestowed the legal ownerships of land titles on these category of people. These people were tiny minority in collusion with Portuguese colonial State at best can be described as the class of people that practiced usury. These class of people came to be known as Landlords in feudal sense.

The mass of people in mining had community sense of land ownerships. Their land control was bestowed in communities. These community land ownership patterns were disrupted by the colonial State and never repaired by post-colonial state in Goa. Few remaining community land ownership institutions were taken over on landlord class and they were given new name called communidades. The people who traditionally enjoyed rights over these lands were excluded from the land titles. This effectively paved way for the legal establishment of control over community lands that later on would be parceled out for mining companies. Section of community land belonged to the community temples. These temples too were brought under legal control of the upper caste landlord class through Mazania law in Post liberation Goa. These set of State driven class controlled legal architecture put firm foundation for the effective legal uprooting of the people from their lands even though in large parts of Goa they continued to enjoy actual possession of the land.

Mining leases granted during the Portuguese colonial regimes fits into this complex legal context of alienating people from their lands. Mining leases numbering around 791 and covering over 67,700 hectares of land in 10 out of total 11 talukas of Goa. Indian government did not embark upon any radical overturn of the Colonial architecture prevalent in the State of Goa. In fact it re-enforced it through various laws in post Liberation Goa; one of the chief ways being, it legally legitimized the mining leases.

Process of impoverishment thus has been triggered off with the above legal manipulations. Legally thus the entire people of Goa except the landlord class remained under constant uncertainty, not knowing as to when the actual disenfranchisement of actual possession would take place. Legal the law is now against the people in mining belt. Mining leases enjoyed supra power and legitimacy especially from the State agencies such as the Police, Executive, governments and Judiciary. Legal alienation cleared the path for greater and horror field alienation – ecological alienation. Goa State from its very inception in 1961 remained under firm control of the mining companies. Its first two chief ministers were mine owners themselves for two decades.

When the mining begins

Mining is one type of activity wherein the end of entire decentralization in governance becomes imperative. The nature of mining is militaristic. It does not tolerate any dissent. It needs all pervasive power over land, minerals under the land, and power of public opinion. It needs to find its ways to aggressively extract the minerals and ship it out towards Japan, China, Europe, US and other countries too. Social engineering is embarked upon in very powerful manner through iron control over the State, media, intellectuals and public organizations. Dissent is put down with powerful impetus. The benefit it derives from these de-humanizing tendencies are that it is able to service the demands in the Global Political Economy for minerals. Locally it is able to create handful of economic elites and strengthen them further through economies of scale. This is a most certain way towards creating inequality and repressive disharmony leading towards poverty of mass of the people at the source destination of the mineral extraction. In fact this has been the exact way as to how things have unfolded in Goa.

Protests against the starting of mining have been put down with Police force. Sometimes it has been done through lure of money and alcohol. The farmers are lured into the benefits of accepting compensation for the loss of their land. If they do not agree then they are implicated in some false criminal cases are forced on to compromise table. Whichever is the way of ‘sorting’ out the protestors the outcome is common the person, families, and communities are violently forced to cut their links with soil and land.

They cease to be cultivators. Poverty downs on to their lives and consequences are unpredictable. There are number of villages wherein this has been the reality in Goa. Pissurlem village in North Goa’s Sattari taluka is a classic village to study the mining aggression and poverty of people. This village has been most flourishing village in agriculture. It was blessed with abundant greenery, forest cover, natural water springs, paddy fields and of course the hard working people. The village has been topmost producers of paddy in the entire taluka of Sattari. All this changed dramatically. Not only coming of miming has forced the people of mining to stop paddy cultivation, it has also displaced the village twice and third displacement in Dhatwada region is on cards. There are nearly seven mines functioning in the area of various mining companies such as Sesa Goa – owned by British Corporate Vedanta, Fomentos, Salgaocar, Chowgules etc. The mountains have been razed down totally. These were once dense western ghats forest areas. The silt from the mining areas has washed away into the paddy fields and rendered the redundant. Protests of villagers to remove the mining silt have been put off totally both by the mining companies as well by the State. The natural springs that were supplying water to the paddy fields have dried up as the mining pits have gone deep underground and ground water remained terribly disrupted. This has deprived the villagers of steady supply of food for their living. It has also deprived them of steady supply of water to take bath, cooking and drinking. The village is entirely dependent upon the mining companies to meet their daily needs for water. Mining companies has commissioned tankers to supply daily water into the plastic water tanks placed outside the houses of the people. There is direct deprivation of cultivation of paddy thereby creating situation of food security. There is also creation of dependence on mining companies for water. So far only air in the village is not supplied by mining companies. But here too, lager number of lung diseases reported at the local government health centre at Valpoi such as Tuberculosis are from Pissurlem. The co-relation is not difficult to arrive at. Polluted air with dust particles from mining activity including transportation of ore in trucks causes air pollution.

But can one take this as indicators of poverty? Poverty is relative concept. If one has to judge it from the point of view of access to water and land then it is poverty for sure. But hold on. Here is description of my last visit to Pissurlem few months ago. One striking feature is a visible presence of cars in front of number of houses in Pissurlem. Another feature is prevalence of mining trucks in front of houses. Investigations reveal that large number of people in Pissurlem have opted to buy trucks and get into mining transportation trade due to close down of agriculture option. Some families have earned money to buy cars afford a life in comfort. How one does judges this? Mining companies are also supplying with monthly doles to families in Pissurlem as a trade off for silence of the Villagers. So people have got into the habit of accepting the monthly doles and become insensitive to the collective ruin of the habitat and life support systems. New mining leases in the meanwhile continue to get activated. Few years ago this village has suffered massive floods due to mining activities. Mining silt that got deposited in inside the people’s houses was over one meter thick.

The village of Sirgao in Bicholim stands out in this context. The number of people in the village that are challenging the three operating mines in their village – Dempos that is taken over by British corporate Vedanta, Chowgules, and Bandekars. They filed public interest litigation in Goa bench of Bombay High Court in June 2008. The court directed Nagpur based National Environment Engineering Institute (NEERI) to conduct scientific study. NEERI submitted its study in March 2009 confirming that mining activity has caused depletion of ground water in the village causing drying up of village wells and springs. It also confirmed that large amount of deposition of mining silt has taken place in the agricultural fields of the village and paddy cultivation has not been possible. NEERI submitted the plan to rejuvenate the water sources and remove mining silt from paddy fields at the cost of approximately 1.8 lakhs per hectare. The total amount that mining companies would have to pay to NEERI to restore Sirgao’s agriculture and recharge groundwater is Rs. 660.25 lakhs. What is the story of Sirgao that is proved scientifically is the story of every village under mining in Goa. Water and Food security of Goa is deeply threatened.

Colamb is another village in South Goa’s Sanguem taluka that is currently battling mining industry. The number of mining leases are 23 that are covering large area of Colamb village. The village has total areas of 1929 hectares and mining leases covers 1510 hectares of land. The mining leases cover places of habitat, forest, natural water bodies, paddy fields and everything else on the surface of the village. Already in the past 10 years couple of mines that are operating in the village has destroyed considerable amount of agriculture. Alcoholism has increased many folds in the mining belt with increased problems of alienation amongst both the locals as well as migrants. Destruction of agriculture and forest and everything else becomes a priority for the mining companies to carry on advancing into the newer territories. Large variety of vegetables that people – mostly tribals cultivated has vanished as the cultivation spaces has been occupied by mining companies. The local river named Kushavati – tributori of Zuari river - began to dry three years ago in the month of May. This year State government has constructed check dams on Kushavati river. But this is not the solution. Stagnant water do not support any fish that used to be available in the river for the local people to eat. Now there is no fish. The huge trees on the banks of Kushavati rivers are affected with stagnant water and as a result trees – according to local people’s wisdom – are dying. So it is double problem of mining as well as the problem of river being artificially flooded. Both of these are dangerous downslides as far as standard of people in the locality are concerned.

The above are only few glimpses of the deeply deteriorating situation due to mining industry in Goa. Only handful of people are financially benefiting from the trade. The people in the Goa’s mining belt are directly affected negatively. The industry is making people poorer by the day. Financially due to trucks banks are benefiting, while the people are loosing their land, water, agriculture, rivers and forest. They are loosing this forever. Goa is loosing this forever. Mining actively causes poverty in Goa. Its consequences are going to be unpredictable and severe for the entire society.

Mining in Goa: testimonies

Dinanath Gaonkar, Sirgao

Mining has been going on in our village for over 45 years. When I was young all these mining pits today were dense forest. In the forest we used to go around and pick our wild fruits, medicines and even we had our play ground on a small patch. All this has changed now. Mining companies – three of them has come about in our village of Sirgao and carried on mining excavation work. This has resulted in large scale changes of our village. Few people got employment into the mines. And large number of villagers was involved in cultivation of agriculture. The changes that unfolded over the period of time has shocked us and pushed the entire village into the state of ecological refugees. Our forest is completely disappeared – chopped down by mining companies. Our play ground id not traceable at all. In their place there are huge mining pits.

The mining in the mountains has led to the washing of Ore into the low lying paddy fields and over the last few years our agriculture has come to the grinding halt. Our paddy fields has lost fertility and are silted with run offs from the mining companies. What are we to eat? Where are we to cultivate? How are we to live?

Presently we live like worms in our village. Not only our paddy fields are silted but also our village springs and wells have gone dry because of mining. The ore extraction inside the pits has gone so low that the mining companies are continuously involved in pumping out of ground water with high powered water pumps. The underground flow has changed its course towards the mining pits. This has left all the village springs and wells dry.

Some people in the village has benefited as they operate mining trucks. But the long term interest of our village is terribly compromised and gradually it is becoming unbearable to stay in the village. Our ancestors came and settled here chiefly because there was plenty of water available here. But all that has changed now. Water in the village is becoming scarce day by day. Our village has changed from once prosperous towards poverty due to open cast iron ore mining.

Our future generations can no longer hope to live in this village if the mining goes on the way it going currently. When our villagers objected for the transportation of Ore from the land legally owned by us police came and arrested my fellow villagers. How are we to survive this onslaught? Our demand it to create Sirgao village free from mining.

Motesh Antao, Colomba

I am from Colomba village in Sanguem taluka. My family directly affected due to open cast iron mining activities carried on at the neighboring mine. Our agriculture is getting ruined as the siltation and water shortages have resulted in reduced production of rice. This is a case with many farmers in Colomba. Our traditional water ways has been chocked with silt that got washed with rains and got accumulated inside the water ways. This has also affected our daily schedules of life in Peace and harmony.

Mining is being carried on inside forest areas. We are involved in protesting against the mining industry in our village because it is deriving towards poverty. I as well as my fellow villagers are facing constant threats from the mining companies as well from the State Police force. I have been arrested due to my protests against mining nearly 8 times during past two years. My brothers as well as my parents too have been arrested and number of criminal cases are filed. Now I have to make regular trips to the Court of law in Quepem and Sanguem.

Police officers on two occasions beat me up at the Police station after calling me to the police station to collect information that I had asked under Right to Information Act involving details of assets of Police officers and their involvement in mining transportation.

There are all together 23 mining leases in my village of Colomba. Out of which four are in operation currently. Another 4 are going for Public hearing next month in March 2010. Our entire village is full greenery in the form of Forest and Paddy fields. The places where mines have started however are no longer green. The extraction of ore has changed colour. Health of our villagers is deteriorating. Mining has generated tensions and few people are getting affected with hearth attacks that were unheard of till few years ago.

Our roads have become very dangerous to walk and drive on. There are large number of truck carrying mining ore ply regularly creating dangerous situation of the roads. Accidents are regular phenomena and every now and then there are victims of accidents and some even deaths.

How do I make my living in this situation? How does my fellow villagers to make living when mining is doing away with our soil, our paddy fields, our water sources, our forest and our dignity? How are we to survive? I feel we can live peacefully and prosperously in the village only when mining is stopped completely.

Sharmila Naik, Advalpal

My village of Advalpal is depended upon agriculture. It is also the village with forest and hills. It is located in Bicholim taluka. In our village there used to be mining in manual form nearly 40 years ago. The there was accident on the mine and few people had died. Then mines were stopped. However four years ago mines started again. This time it was mechanized mining. Few companies came to our village, offered money to the villagers and mines got started. However after one year we realized how dangerous this mining was we started opposing the mines. The mines has created very dangerous situation for my village of Advalpal. Mines disrupted traditional water flow in the village and our crop got flooded at the time of harvest. The mine buried existing water lakes with mining silt. Further mining even dug our crematorium space where our village used to cremate the dead of our village.

Now the situation is bad as the traditional water bodies are dried up due to mining. Natural springs of our village used to supply water to drink for our villagers. Women folks also used gather together for the washing of clothes at the springs. All this is now gone with drying up of springs.

In June last year due to mining our village got flooded. Mining silt was deposited into the houses of the people. It was very traumatic moment for my family and villagers. Few houses got badly hit by the floods.

Mining has also destroyed cashew crops and there are very few spaces left for us to carry on with our cashew cultivation. We used to get bumper crops every year but for the past few years not only the yield has deteriorated but also the places where cashew trees existed has been used for mining purposes. The large lake space that was used for the purpose of bathing of cattle has been buried deliberately by the mining company. Our cattle has no place to take bath now and mining has led to disruption of agriculture of our village.

The lease boundary of the mining company extends to the middle of the village main road. There are three mining leases that are in operation here. One mining lease is currently stopped due to High Court order to remove the silt that mining company has deposited in the village. Mining company has not adhered to the High Court Order so far for the past 4 months.

Now my family is forced to move out of Advalpal as there are no sources of living left in the village. Number of other families too facing similar situations. Where are we to look for our survival in the context of mining?

In May 2008 there was a major revolt in our village against mining. We marched on the mine site and stopped the work by force. Then we got together and protested outside the office of Deputy Collector, Bicholim for one week. Number of police cases are filed against us. Nearly 70 people have to attend the court hearings regularly at Bicholim Court. Mining companies got police protection and carried on their operations.

Few people of our village who own trucks benefit from the mining industry. The rest of us get no benefit at all. In fact our village is losing terribly and I feel mining has to stop once and for all.

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