The Goa government has finally shut down an illegal open cast iron ore mine in Goa after tribals, who had been protesting for months, laid siege to the office of the director of mines for 10 hours.
About 200 tribals surrounded Director of Mines Arvind Lolienkar for more than 10 hours in his Panaji office on Tuesday, asking him to order closure of the illegal mine operated by M/s Devpan Devadongor Iron and Manganese Pvt Ltd at Cavrem, about 75 km from Panaji.
The deadlock between the tribals and the state government over the illegal operation of the mine broke late Tuesday night after the state pollution control board sealed the mining company's operational premises.
"For months we have been shouting and protesting that ore was being illegally extracted. Even Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, who is also the mines minister, did not stop the illegal mining," one of the protestors, Ramesh Velip, told IANS.
"They have not only been mining illegally, but have also posted hoodlums and bouncers at the mining sites to threaten us," added his colleague Nilesh Gaonkar.
On Tuesday, after their patience ran out, protestors from Cavrem, including elderly men and women, almost all of whom are tribals and depend on the forest land and agricultural produce for their survival, surrounded mines director Lolienkar, asking him to order the illegal mine shut at Devdongor, which means 'God's hill'.
The mine has been ordered closed under section 31 (A) of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and under section 33 (A) of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.
"We don't even pluck a leaf from that mountain. How can we allow a mining firm to swallow it entirely? Our spirits live there," said a 67-year-old woman who did not wish to identify herself.
Illegal and unchecked mining is a sensitive issue in Goa, with both civil society groups and the opposition repeatedly voicing their concern over the issue. According to data submitted in the monsoon session of the Goa legislative assembly, ore worth Rs.4,000 crore was illegally mined and exported out of the Goa to countries like China, Japan and Romania.
According to Leader of Opposition Manohar Parrikar, nearly 18 percent of Goa's total 40 million mining output comprises illegally mined ore. He has also accused the chief minister and several of his cabinet ministers of being hand-in-glove with the illegal mining mafia.