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Goa residents protest against mining

Land is being parceled out to mining companies without any proper EIA and forest clearance, reports KumKum Dasgupta.

india Updated: Nov 26, 2007 02:11 IST
KumKum Dasgupta

Kalidas Umarye’s house at Vathadev in Goa’s Bicholim taluka is an ocean of tranquility. But there is tension simmering beneath: Umarye, an agriculturist, might lose his home and livelihood if a mining company has its way.

“How would you feel if the government asks you to leave your property and livelihood because the area is resource-rich?” asks Pramod Umarye, his neighbour.

Land here is being parceled out to mining companies without proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and forest clearance. And, most importantly, against the wishes of the local community.

“The ore you get here is of low grade. But because of demand from China, mining companies are scrambling to get contracts. The Chinese want this ore to blend it with better quality ones,” says journalist Ashwin Tombat.

But Goa’s industrialists are not complaining. In the past six years, the state’s mineral exports have increased 35 per cent to 23 million tonnes last year.

The struggle in Bicholim started in December 2006 when villagers learnt that Panjim-based Zantye and Co Pvt Ltd would be given the lease for mining iron and manganese ore at Sarvona. In January, the Gram Sabha (Sarvona-Karapura panchayat) passed a resolution asking the government not to grant permission. If one goes by the Panchayati Raj Act, this decision should have been enough. But the government called a public hearing — a requirement under the EIA — on January 18.

Residents allege the hearing was faulty because they were not given information on the project 30 days prior to the meeting and the company did not provide any disaster management plan. The second hearing was on March 24, when the residents said they were against the lease because mining would destroy their forests, natural water source and horticulture plantation.

“The company presented false information to get the lease. The Portuguese granted this mining concession in 1953 and it was

operational till 1956. A mining lease lapses

if it’s not in operation for two years. To

circumvent this, Zantye said mining was done between 2001-03. The Directorate of Mines and Geology fudged reports for them to show there was a production of

15 tonnes of manganese in this period. Through an RTI application, I have asked them for the pit numbers where mining was done. It’s been four months, I am yet to get an answer,” says schoolteacher Ramesh Gauns, spearheading the protest.

“Does this area look like there was mining in 2003?” he asks, showing this correspondent the thick foliage in the proposed mining lease area.

“The Bicholim River meets the Mandovi downstream. The catchment area is rich in biodiversity. Mining activity will pollute the river and destroy 21 perennial wells. The Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment report, submitted by the mine owner, has not mentioned Vavati and Vathadeo villages, not even the Bicholim river. Plus, he concealed that this is a flood-prone area,” said Gauns.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests granted the company a go-ahead on August 20. Undaunted, the people have appealed to the ministry appellate.