When ethical and moral values are abandoned in favour of crass consumerism, immersion in total entertainment becomes the new normal. No wonder then that those who throng the not-so-serene beaches to de-stress rarely realize that the country’s pimple, as Nehru would call Goa, has been mercilessly squeezed of its natural assets. Consistent political patronage and persistent industrial greed have legitimized mining as the panacea to all ills. That this largely illegal act is making the land of ‘fish, curry and rice’ eat dust seems a peripheral concern, if at all.
At this time, when most Goans, like the exuberant middle class across the country, have allowed themselves to be wooed by the argument that industrialisation is a prerequisite for sustaining the growth appetite, Hartman De Souza comes out with an investigative narrative on the organised loot that has flattened the state’s green hills and sucked dry its live aquifers.
In exporting 35 per cent of the country’s ore, mining has used 8 per cent of the state’s richest land mass, and returned just 4 per cent to its exchequer by pocketing the rest. ‘Eat Dust’ is a shocking revelation on the appropriation of the state’s economy by private interests, who have steady access to the gatekeepers: those who hold state office, and those who could influence it on demand.
This is an environment thriller, loaded with extreme stories of treachery, gluttony and conspiracy. Ingrate politicians, conciliate bureaucrats and devious media form the familiar star cast, suitably supported by gullible landowners, petty businessmen and tongue-tied priests, who create the perfect playing ground for mining barons to carve out a replica of the Grand Canyon in the Western Ghats.
Had it not been for the apex court putting a ban on mining in 2012, these actors would have stripped the state of its remaining estimated 1.3 billion tons of ore worth over US$ 6 billion. Hartman’s chronicle is a factual blow-by-blow account of what actually happened on the ground. It traces the political route to the story from the time Goa’s first chief minister, Dayanand Bandodkar, was hand-picked to lead by mining companies, who recognized his acumen and his sympathy for their own greater cause. Since then, the baton has remained in safe hands; proactive political collusion has perpetuated greed.
Not to be missed in this socio-anthropological and ecological history of Goa is the story of protracted opposition by a handful of men and women, who have taken the battle to the heavily guarded mines across the state. Despite intimidation by goons of the mining mafia with support from the local police, the mother-daughter duo of Dora and Cheryl had chained themselves when the barrier to the Dinar Tarcar’s mine was still down, to record their genuine anger against unscrupulous mining close to their home. Local opposition has only continued to grow, providing a perfect backdrop to activists pursuing legal proceedings against illegal mines.
The author laments the lack of mass upsurge against mining in Goa. Will people in Panjim understand how bad mining is only when they find red dust flowing out of their taps? It seems everyone has been poisoned by a uniform coat of dust tossed up by the trucks plying ore from the mine to the harbour; that there is nothing that can stop the rot from spreading. On top of all this, the mining mafia has carefully quashed any annoyance with promises that are partially fulfilled at any given time.
More than just hit-and-run reporting, Eat Dust is courageous writing that aims to provide information. Many of the details in the book have been hidden from the public. Or perhaps nobody had the courage to discover them in the first place. Hartman has sunk his teeth deep into the story without allowing himself to be bullied. What emerges is a narrative that smells of a mix of passion and anguish, uncovering the rot that plagues the mining sector — not only in Goa but in the rest of the country as well. Eat Dust is essential reading for all those who may have even an iota of interest in pretty trees, sparkling springs, and majestic tigers.
Sudhirendar Sharma is a development journalist
Eat Dust: Mining and Greed in GoaHartman De SouzaHarperCollinsRs.350; PP 277