Wednesday, May 19, 2010

60% of Goa's mining is below ground water table

60% of Goa's mining is going on under the ground water table according to the top official in Ministry of Environment and Forest South zone office in Bangalore Ms Sarita. She was speaking at the joint meeting in Goa International Centre, Dona Paula between Government officials, Mining companies and various groups protesting against open cast mining in Goa. The gathering was called by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest to find the solutions over wide ranging controversies related to mining industry in Goa.

This industry is in the middle of intense criticisms from wide range of quarters for taking Goa toward desertification by ruining its Forests and Water sources. These allegations got confirmed yesterday when Ms Sarita disclosed publicly that the Map of Minerals and Map of Forest matches for India and it ought to be a policy decision as to diversion of forest for mining purpose.

With her disclosures the myth of sustainable mining got busted. Both mining companies as well as few government officials were advocating 'sustainable mining'.

There was lots of discussion on legality of mines as the representative of the Goa State department of Mines and Geology A.T. D'souza argued that all the mines in Goa are legal under one law or the other. Representative of Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association Glen projected that the mining industry in Goa is concerned about the illegal mining. However during discussions when he was asked to identify illegal mines in Goa by Sebastian Rodrigues and Fr. Maverick Fernandes he had no reply to offer and maintained silence. Perhaps his homework was incomplete. Later it emerged from discussion that illegal mines are those that do not posses Environmental Clearances from Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) according to case law in force.

Earlier number of points that are objectionable regarding mining industry in Goa was placed before the gathering of nearly 60 people. Carmen Miranda from London, Dr. Claude Alvares of Goa foundaation, Shankar Jog from Sancorda, Dilip Hegde from Quepem, Ramesh Gauns from Bicholim, Cheryl de Souza from Maina - Quepem, Rama Velip from Colamb, Anthony D'Silva from Ambelim, Shamsunder Naik from Advalpal, Rajendra Kerker from Keri-Sattari and Advocate Norma Alvares spoke at the meeting pin pointing various gross illegalities of mining industry in Goa.

Chief Conservator of Forests (Central), Mr. K.S Reddy took the initiative to invite the participants and acknowledged the role of Carmen Miranda and Dr.Claude Alvares in pursuing this idea of a meeting. He said in his introductory remarks that NGOs in Goa are looking at the mining industry in holistic terms rather than at individual mines. Secondly they were looking at mining industry over a longer period of time in terms of its implications and consequence for ecology.

Dr. Claude Alvares asked Mr. Reddy to take action on various violations of law recorded by the government committee headed by Goa Chief Conservator of Forest, Mr. Shashi Kumar in his visits to 54 mines. He said MoEF has granted Environmental Clearances for 130 mines in Goa and actual number of mines actually operating cross the 150 mark.

Cheryl de Souza said that various wild animals like monkeys are attacking her horticultural farm in Maina because of mining nearby has destroyed forest.

The issue of reckless driving of mining trucks also came up for discussions. 'If State cannot deal with truck drivers on roads, how will it deal with Anil Agarwal of Vedanta?' Dr. Alvares questioned.

The most number of public criticism were against department of Mines and Geology for their partisan role. 'There are whole lot of incompetent bunch of people in Department of Mines and Geology. They do not do their job. Beginning with the director Lolienkar their salaries must be withheld' Dr. Alvares remarked.

Advocate Norma Alvares who has been handling mining cases in High Court for the past 20 years said that State must have independent monitoring mechanism and not rely upon the periodic compliance reports and EIA reports prepared by mining companies alone.

Mining companies in their response had no response to any of the charges leveled against them and spoke through Glen of Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association and Sachin Tendulkar of Goa Mineral Foundation. They highlighted some of the charity works they are doing in mining belt and calling it Corporate Social responsibility. They played video of 15 minutes duration that was objected to by Carmen Miranda as not dealing with the questions raised on mining and trying to divert the issues involved. One of the scenes on the pictures is about training of youth in technical skills by Fomentos and and how these youth are absorbed in their own mining company! Another scene was about service of water supply to mining affected villages by mining companies in tankers. Their film however misses the point that it the same mining companies in the first place that are responsible for creating water crisis by digging mines below natural water table. So this videos was designed for the purpose of brainwashing and not solving any kind of problem the mining industry creates. In fact it showed some horrible pictures of mines dug across the State of Goa.

Ramesh Gauns pointed that all the mines in Goa are in violations of terms and conditions of the Environmental Clearance. Most common violations are in gradients and height of mining dumps.

Rama Velip expressed grave concerns that mining has rapidly destroying human as well animal habitat together. He gave example of his village of Colomba, Sanguem that has total area of 1929 hectares of land of which over 1500 hectares are under 23 mining leases of which 4 are in operation currently making life of villagers miserable with drying of water sources and silting of paddy fields.

Sirgao mines and NEERI report on them confirming that mines has caused decisive damage to agriculture and ground water also dominated the discussion. Ministry official disclosed that this report has been placed before high level appraisal committee of the Union government.

Anthony D'silva of Ambelim, Salcete informed that he found silt in his tank that stores tap water originating in Selaulim Dam. He said that the silt is due to mining. He advocated ban on mining in Goa.

Norma Alvares suggested the formation of independent fund by charging mining companies for the purpose of reclamation of mines in Goa.

Shamsunder Naik, Advalpal narrated the instances when he was offered bribes of lacks of rupees by mining companies to stop him from being critical of mining industry. He said he refused it all. Further Naik narrated the instance of the floods that caused his village to get flooded on June 6, 2009 because of mining activities by number of companies including Sesa Goa.

Meeting ended with Mr. K.S. Reddy instructing the mining companies to pull up their socks. Number of Mining companies representatives were present at this meeting but all of them remained quite taking copious notes to share with their respective superiors. Mr. Reddy also said that Goa mining companies must move towards sustainable mining. This is vision that protesting groups does not share and would like to witness mining industry be closed down in Goa soon and used lands reclaimed. More damage spared. Taste to metals - cars etc needs to be changed in order not to put any more pressure on planet that is badly hurt and needs time to heal. Water is precious, Forest in precious, it is too much to sacrifice this. It is equal to scarifying life whose sustainable is water. Mining is possible in only one condition - with zero use of machinery. It will ensure that mines do not go deeper than ground water.

Sebastian Rorigues

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