Wednesday, May 19, 2010

‘Miners are arrogant... we are feeling hopeless’

Mining silt is damaging rice fields, water sources are drying up.
Villagers in Sanguem are a worried lot

Joaquim Fernandes | tnn

Sanguem, May 19, 2010: The fertile rice fields spread across 200 hectares in
Collme-Xethod in Collamb village of Sanguem taluka have sustained
generations of farmers. But now farmers say that silt flowing down
from the mines in the hills above are spoiling their fields. Mining is
also drying up the natural springs that once nurtured their fields.

“Zaitem xeth paddan assam. Udok nam tor baath kami, poll chod (Much of
the paddy has been spoilt. If there is no water, the grain is less,
the chaff is more),” says Rama Velip from Collamb-Rivona. Agriculture
is the mainstay for this 45-year-old and his four brothers and their
family of 17.

The Collme-Xethod stretch of fields is located at the foot of Gulkhond
Dongor, where mining is now on. From the base of Gulkhond Dongor, two
springs used to nurture the fields. While the one on the eastern side,
called Gollimoll, has already dried up, the other one on the west,
called Gogro (cascade), is gradually drying up, its torrent now
reduced to a trickle.

Rama insists that over 90% of the people in Collamb depend on
agriculture. “It is the best profession because all year long your get
free food. If not anything, there is at least rice congee to eat. But
the main thing is water. Without water, you can't sow. In the last
seven-eight years, water is reducing,” he says.

A narrow storm water drain separates the house of 60-year-old Pandhari
Mahadev Velip and the fields of Collme-Xethod. “Water used to flow in
this drain even in May because of the abundance of the Gogro spring.
Now this nullah is already dry in March,” says Pandhari.

As if the drying up of the natural springs was not enough, mining silt
has washed into the fields, damaging the crops of many farmers. Motesh
(Mathew) Antao is one of them.

Motesh's is the first field on the northern side of Collme-Xethod and
therefore closest to the mines. A crude wall of boulders now separates
his field from the red mining rejects of Gulkhond Dongor. Motesh's
nearly-one-acre field used to yield him 50 sacks of paddy. With a lot
of chaff this year, he is not sure of the yield. “Sanguem has the
maximum number of springs in Goa. If mining is allowed to destroy
those water sources, agriculture will die and will also kill us
eventually,” says Motesh.

Ironic that although Motesh criticizes mining, he ekes out a living as
a driver on a mining truck. “I don't like this job. Someday I hope to
buy my own taxi,” he says.

Asked why he does not avail of loans that are so easy now, he says
banks will not lend him money as there are seven police cases against
him. These cases had been foisted on him, Rama Velip and many others
by mining companies, he alleges.

Motesh continues, “The police harass us. They arrest us, make us sign
papers and slap cases on us. Then we have to make repeated trips to
courts. Their intention is to harass us into silence and eventually
into submission.”

Milagrina, Motesh's mother says, “The companies create divisions among
the villagers. Now there is lot of enmity among people. Earlier, we
used to collect firewood from the forest and our cattle used to graze
there. Now they don't allow us. We have sold all our cattle, save

If there are doubts about farmers' claims regarding the blight of
mining in Goa, the state government-appointed monitoring committee's
findings should put that to rest. The monitoring committee, headed by
the chief conservator of forests, has found violations in 54 of the
110 operational mining leases in Goa. Many of the 54 are in Sanguem .

Goa Foundation has obtained details of the violations in each lease
under the Right to Information Act. Said Claude Alvares of Goa
Foundation, “These violations were found only in the leases that the
committee visited. There are many other leases. We will make a
presentation to the ministry of environment and forests. If they don't
act within one month, then we will act.”

Alvares said most were forest violations. But a look at the monitoring
committe's reports showed that each lease had committed on an average
about five violations. These included not obtaining consent under
water act or air act, leases being adjacent to wildlife sanctuaries,
lack of clearances from environment, wildlife or standing committee
and, more importantly, “dumping done outside lease area”.

It is from these dumps that the silt runs into agricultural fields.
Sources in the agriculture department, on condition of anonymity,
admitted mining has affected farming in Sanguem. But they also say
that Sanguem is just beginning to feel the pinch whereas villages like
Cavrem-Pirla in neighbouring Quepem have already been badly hit.

Agriculture department sources said that during the last one year,
there have been about seven public hearings in Sanguem for new mines.
“About 90% of the people opposed the mines. Earlier, people used to
keep quiet for money. Now they want to preserve their land and do
agriculture,” sources said.

Mining and its accompanying ills dominate the Sanguem landscape. In
Shivsorem, 67-year-old Prabhakar Butto Gaonkar grows coconut, cashew,
arecanut, sugarcane and rice in his own fields. But a mining lease has
been issued for the area and the company is offering Gaonkar Rs 10
lakh for the land. The mine has started but the mining dumps have not
reached near Gaonkar's fields yet.

Gaonkar is quoting a steep price for his fields in order to dissuade
the company from buying. The mining company has not agreed yet.
Gaonkar's young daughter-in-law gets sentimental about the land: “The
field is all we have. If we sell the field, where will we go with our
small children?”

The cluster of houses around Gaonkar's house is nestled between two
operational mining leases. The water level in the well opposite
Gaonkar's house is precariously low. The village women nearby are sure
the well will go dry by April.

The women are angry that mining dust has ruined their agriculture.
After much fighting by Shivsorem residents, one mining company paid
the families Rs 10,000 per year as compensation. Another company paid

Says Premavati Gaonkar, “Our sugarcane cultivation suffered because
our well dried up. What can we do with the land if there is no water?
The miners are arrogant and don't listen to anyone. The village
panchayat is not helping us. Last year, we agitated quite a lot. This
year, we are feeling hopeless.”

Times of India, 19 May 2010

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