It should have been a busy mining season with noisy machines digging deep into the earth and a trucks leaving behind kilometres of red dusty roads while ferrying iron ore from the mines to the jetties.
Instead, there is silence in the mining belts of Goa, signaling that the plunder of ore has stopped – at least for now.
In October 2012, the Supreme Court recommended an interim ban on mining operations. The Goa government is likely to file an affidavit in the apex court by February 20 and is working out a relief package for those rendered jobless.
But walking aimlessly around Pisurleim village in north Goa —home to three 40-year-old mines — is Nanda Gawade, 40, who is among thousands of jobless local truck drivers and contract labourers, while those from states such as Bihar and Jharkand have returned home.
From just 10 trucks in the village till 2000, more than half of the 1,500 families today possess at least two trucks; some even 25 or 40.
Driving since he turned 20, Gawade said the mining business boomed when China started accepting low-grade ore (below 50% grade) in 2005.
“What was initially extracted in one day was extracted in an eight-hour shift. The duration to load a truck dropped from 10 minutes to less than two minutes,” said Gawade, who has lost a monthly income of Rs.12,000.
“From 70 trucks making seven trips each between 8am and 5pm, there were 150 trucks, each making 10 round trips.”
Driving through deserted roads in the mining belts of north and south Goa, 18,000-odd trucks lie idle in verandahs and vacant land.
Around 360 empty barges stand docked along the banks of the Zuari river waiting to start ferrying iron ore to the Mormugao Port Trust in Vasco, where large mounds of ore for export are stacked in the open.
While the number of trucks doubled and in some cases even tripled in backyards, barges with a carrying capacity of 750 million tonnes of iron ore got replaced with one that could carry 2,000 to 2,500 million tonnes.
Demu Ladko Parab, 59, who has worked as a driver since 1972, purchased two trucks in 2005 after taking a loan of Rs5 lakh.
“From earning close to Rs1 lakh a month, I have no income today,” said Parab, whose small plot of agricultural land got silted due to a mine.
Frustration over the ban is evident in south Goa where the mining business coincided with the Chinese demand for iron ore and so did super normal profits.
In Pali and its neighbouring village of Velgeum in south Goa, 70% of the 4,000 families are dependent on mining. From 500 trucks till 2005, today these two villages have 1,500 trucks.
“Those making noise against mining have cushy lives in Panjim,” said Santosh Naik, 58, who has to pay a monthly installment of Rs. 1.5 lakh for two trucks.
As the older generation hopes that mining resumes, jobless young boys kill time at street corners and bus stops. Resident Rama Velip said, "Every weekend, these boys would blow all their earnings in the casinos. Now they don’t know what has hit them.”