Thursday, April 22, 2010

‘Over-mining will kill water sources, ruin agriculture in Goa’


Panaji, April 19, 2010: The mining boom in the hinterland of Goa, besides creating dust pollution and related health hazards, is also killing the water aquifers in the hills that are being mined and thus threatening agriculture in the hinterland talukas.

This is the consensus of a group of citizens and activists that went on an expedition to the mining belt on Sunday. The expedition was organised by the Goenchea Xetkareancho Ekvott (GXE), the Goa Federation of Mining Affected People (GOAMAP) and others. Starting from Quepem taluka, citizens in one bus and two cars visited the mining affected areas in the talukas of Sanguem, Ponda, Sattari and Bicholim.

Referring to the complete drying up of wells and natural springs and the consequent death of agriculture in Shirgao, Pissurlem and Advalpal, GXE president Deelip Hegde said, “These places in North Goa are already finished. But Sanguem and Quepem are in the first stages of destruction.”

“If the government does not regulate mining now, Goa is a gone-case,” said activist Bicholim-based activist Ramesh Gawas.

Entering Cavrem village in Quepem, the group sees a lot of greenery in the fields below. But above the fields are the ravaged, bleeding range of hills starting with “Devapan Dongor”. Writer and drama personality Hartman de Souza tells the group how the Paikachi Zhor and the sacred grove behind Devapan Dongor are now under threat. There are three mines on the hills and the fields below have already been sold, he says.

Just a little ahead in Maina village, De Souza relates a recent incident when the miners hit a water aquifer while cutting a hill and “there was a waterfall as wide as a car” that gushed for several days before drying up. Still further and a little before the government secondary school in Maina, De Souza shows on the left of the road, a low and long heap of mining dump. “It used to be a hill 3 years ago. I have climbed it. There were several natural springs in the area that used to flow into the Curca river. Now all have dried up,” De Souza says.

Vending its way through the forested landscape, the group sees the verdant majesty of the Western Ghats punctuated frequently by the red taint of mines. In the Collamb area of Sanguem, the group stops at the huge mining dump of the “Unanantlo Dongor” and Collamb-farmer Rama Velip steps forward to explain.

“This mine is illegal,” says Velip. “There is no environmental clearance for this mine. There was no agreement at the public hearing held in June 2008. This area has been demarcated as forest by the Sawant and Karapurkar committee and marked as no-development zone in the regional plan 2021. It has a slope gradient of 45 degrees. This falls in survey number 72 and permission from forest has been obtained for 12.90 hectare. It is within 5 kilometres from the Netravali wildlife sanctuary and 1.5 kilometres from the Salaulim reservoir. I went to our MLA Vasudev Gaonkar several times. But he has nothing to say,” says Velip.

Velip, described by many in the group as a “walking encyclopedia” of mining activity in Sanguem also states the name of the lease holder, but there is no signboard here and the name cannot be verified.

Velip further describes an incident where in another mining illegality, the Collamb farmers complained to the deputy conservator of forests in Margao. “The DCF was angry with us. But he sent the ACF who had tea with the mining people at their site and gave them a nominal fine.”

Further on in Chimmutwadda of Curpem village, the fields are a welcome sight. But beyond the fields and deep within the hills barely 100 metres from the Netravali wildlife sanctuary mining used to flourish until an NGO went to court and stopped it. Velip says that Curpem village alone has 17 mining leases of which only 4 are now operating.

With their vehicles crawling on a forest dirt track for what seems an eternity, the group has to finally stop. A 10-minute trek in the jungle brings the group to a large mining dump abandoned years ago. The group is told that the slurry and rejects from the nearby beneficiation plant was dumped here to form this hillock. One day, the heap collapsed burying a worker and a truck inside. The real shock sinks in when the group is told that this is inside the Netravalli wildlife sanctuary. Only after an NGO went to the Supreme Court, the dumping here was stopped.

All is quiet now at the huge mining-related plant in nearby Tudou village. The signboard at the gate announces this belongs to Chowgule and company private limited. The security men at the gate are visibly upset at the group’s arrival and forbid their entry past the barrier that blocks the road to the mines inside.

This is the site that hogged the news three days ago. The Supreme Court reportedly sealed this mine some years back. But the recent surge in demand rekindled interest in the dump of low grade ore inside. Deelip Hegde of the GXE says that despite the Supreme Court order, 400 truckloads of the ore were illegally taken out of this mine since April 12, 2010. When the GXE and other activists complained, the administration was reluctant to act, Hegde said.

The expedition drives past the towns of Curchorem, Sanvordem and Tisk-Usgao, all awash in red mining dust. One could easily believe that this area has the largest concentration of mining trucks in the world. Mercifully, it being a Sunday, the trucks are parked all along the roads and everywhere the eye can see. Past the green-turned-red hills of Pale, Velguem and other villages, the group is finally shown the mining activity on the range of hills from Mulgao to Shirgao.

When asked if these mines are legal, Ramesh Gawas shoots back. “All mines in Goa are illegal. They have all the papers. But do they follow the mandatory requirements in the papers? The environmental clearance states that the mining dump should not be more then 30 metres high. It also specifies the gradient. But not a single regulation is honoured. Also, the impact assessment studies of the mining companies submitted to the ministry of environment and forests state that there are no natural water sources in the area. Actually, there are six natural water sources here,” says Gawas.

GXE, GOAMAP and the others are planning more such expeditions for college students and other citizens to raise awareness on the dangers of over-mining and to force the government to take remedial measures.

Originally published in Times of India, Panjim on 20 April 2010.

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