Wednesday, June 2, 2010

'Springs, fields will die if Chiunim Dongor is mined'

Joaquim Fernandes, TNN, May 20, 2010, 03.39am IST. Times of India

PANAJI: The famous Taka-zhor spring and numerous other perennial water
sources of Chiunim Dongor in Rivona, Sanguem, will dry up, destroying
the orchards, agricultural fields and livelihoods of farmers if mining
is allowed on Chiunim Dongor.

This worry haunts the farming families living in and around Chiunim
Dongor. A mining company has sought to renew mining for iron and
manganese ore on the hill where mining has been dormant for the last
35 years.

The company has also prepared a "rapid environment impact assessment
(EIA) and environmental management plan" for TC number 35 of 1951, an
area totalling 79.9350 ha. The farming community of Rivona and even
the village panchayat are strongly opposed to mining on Chiunim
Dongor. In November 2009, the Rivona village panchayat unanimously
resolved that permission for renewal of lease and environmental
clearance should not be given to the proposed mining project on
Chiunim Dongor.

In its letter dated November 2, 2009 to the Goa State Pollution
Control Board (GSPCB), Rivona panchayat countered the EIA for Chiunim
Dongor stating that the claim made by the project report about
"non-existence of perennial water sources in or adjacent to mine area
is baseless". Insisting that there are "more than 20 rich perennial
water bodies" and springs, the panchayat stated "the main paddy fields
of village Rivona, namely Gaiginim, Beleshet and Deo Shetod, plus
several arecanut and coconut orchards are fed by these water sources.
These water bodies and the connected ecosystems and agriculture will
get (sic) irreversible damage and will become extinct if the mine
becomes operational".

The Rivona-based Rushivan Shetkari Sanghatana has also slammed the EIA
study as "full of blatant lies and is totally fabricated to project
our village as a backward area". The organization claims "Rivona VP is
one of the most progressive panchayats with 800 landline connections,
15 broadband connections, 3,000 satellite TV connections, 5 banks, 5
cooperative societies, over 100 self-help groups, a farmers’ club, 20
educational institutions, 3,000 pucca houses and (is) a pride of Goa
due to its agricultural richness, pristine and natural beauty."

It further states that the project site is at the topmost point of the
village and the hill is the source of six big and totally 18-20
springs including Taka-zhor.

"These springs are the only source of potable water for the entire
population in the mining lease area and adjoining areas and also
irrigate a vast span of paddy fields, orchards, plantations spread on
all the four sides of this hill encompassing an area of hundreds of
acres of the main wards of Rivona village and on the other side of the
major portion of Molcornem village," the farmer’s collective states.

The sanghatana fears that if the mines become operational, all the
streams originating from the hills will become extinct within a year
or two, "thus destroying hundreds of acres of paddy fields and
orchards and the people entirely dependent on these fields for their
livelihood will be made to starve".

Farmers also fear that mining will affect several ancient monuments of
archaeological importance in and around the mining lease area,
especially the "Vishnudevali" dating back to the 12 th century which
is in the centre of the lease. Mining will also destroy all the houses
lying in the core area rendering the poor scheduled tribe people
homeless, the sanghatana states.

The farmers are strongly supported by the
Goa state agricultural
marketing board, which has urged the GSPCB not to grant any
environmental clearance to mining on Chiunim Dongor. In a November
2009 letter to the GSPCB, the agriculture marketing board wrote,
"Mining activity in
Goa has brought down the production of
horticulture and agriculture commodities. Employment generation due to
mining is of temporary nature and destroys infrastructure of
agri-horticulture industry. Natural resources are destroyed in due
course of time. Mining activity leaves behind huge quantities of
rejection, spreading debris in forest areas, pasture lands and
nullahs. Talukas of Bicholim, Sanguem and a part of Quepem are live
examples of this pollution. Besides people are affected on health

On April 24, this year, in the middle of
Goa’s scorching summer when
water shortage across the state is severe, Takazhor flowed vigorously
as picnickers frolicked under its refreshing waters. The spring gushed
down the valley, home to lush green plantations of coconut, areca nut,
pepper and a sprinkling of banana and jackfruit. On the other side of
the ridge of the hill, other plantations flourish, nourished by more
natural water springs there. All springs run down to nurture the paddy
fields below in Rivona village.

Nature’s bounty of Chiunim Dongor is now under threat, local farmers
fear. If mining is allowed there, based on "false claims" in the EIA
report, then not only their livelihoods will be at risk, the ancient,
natural glory of Chiunim Dongor that has long drawn tourists to its
spring will be destroyed, they say. The EIA report was done by a
consultant appointed by the company interested in the mining lease.
Pandurang Patil, Rivona agriculturist and member of the sanghatana,
lives on the slope of Chiunim Dongor. He points to other "blunders" in
the EIA study prepared "by somebody sitting in
Hyderabad without
checking facts in
Goa". "They want to project this as a very backward
and poverty-ridden area which their mining will uplift. The EIA study
is done by the project proponent, naturally he does it as per his
convenience. Sadly, the government does not verify the claims made in
the study, leaving us to fend for ourselves," Patil says.

GSPCB chairperson Simon de Souza confirmed that the EIA studies
submitted by mining companies are not verified by the board. "EIA
reports are not for our comment. We simply forward the report to the
MoEF in
New Delhi after the public hearings. MoEF is supposed to check
whether claims made in the report are correct or not," De Souza said.
He added that the chief minister had recently made a representation to
the MoEF demanding that the GSPCB be given the right to give its say
on the EIA studies of the mining companies.

Meanwhile, Patil cites the forms I and XIV of the survey numbers on
Chiunim Dongor, states that of the 17.25 lakh square metres area of
the hill, 16.98 lakh square metres is cultivated. "This is 98.45% of
the total area. Why do you want to finish all this agricultural area?"
asks Patil. He says public hearings are a farce.

Mining companies do not allow citizens to get their arguments recorded
by getting paid goons who create chaos during the hearings. Patil
recalls an incident when the
South Goa deputy collector Navin Acharya
had to adjourn a hearing citing "threat to limb and life".

Ashish Prabhudessai, Patil’s neighbour and another prominent
agriculturist in Rivona agrees. "Public hearings are very
disorganized, farcical and intimidating to many of our farmers, who
are mostly illiterate," he says.

High up on Chiunim Dongor, Patil points to its steep slopes. Citing
the EIA study figures, he says 52,000 truckloads of rejects will be
dumped on the hill slope in the first year. "This will run down the
steep slope and silt our water bodies, our paddy fields and make our
fields uncultivable," says Patil.

This has already happened in other areas of Rivona. Ashish’s family
owns plantations of coconut, areca nut, cashew, jackfruit, mango and
pepper in Rivona. His 80-acre farm near Pandav Soddo, on the banks of
the river Khushawati is suffering. Says Ashish, "The river has silted
in the last few years due to mining and the water level has dropped by
50%. The quality and quantity of our coconuts has fallen. Also,
monkeys and wild boar displaced by mining in the forests are invading
our farms."

He cites the agricultural woes of Shivsorem, another Rivona hamlet,
which according to him was a “vegetable haven". Says Ashish, "About
five mines have started there now. The yield of the coconut trees has
fallen despite being well fertilized as the trees are "scared" of the
mines. It is just like feeding a goat well but tying her next to the

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