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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Up for sale: India’s green cover and everything underneath

Like in Orissa, in Goa too, resistance against the mining lobby is gaining strength with every passing day, writes Hartman de Souza.

india Updated: Aug 10, 2008 20:39 IST
Breaking view | Hartman de Souza
Breaking view | Hartman de Souza

Despite some stiff resistance from the local people, the Supreme Court last week approved British mining company Vedanta Resources’ proposal to mine bauxite in Kalahandi, Orissa. Like in Orissa, in Goa too, resistance against the mining lobby is gaining strength with every passing day.

Recently, the Goa cabinet placed its draft policy for mining before the public for debate and discussion. While on the face of it, this seems an enlightened decision, one wonders whether such an exercise is futile — given China’s huge hunger for our low-grade ore.

While villages in Bicholim and Sanquelim face a last-ditch battle to halt mining that in one case has already plou-ghed its way through over 14 kilometres of fertile lands, rivers and forests, rendering them useless, villages in south Goa, in a stretch from Sanguem to Quepem, gear up for a time-consuming fight.

One can understand the righteousness, if one looks at the ‘Public Hearing’ held in Maina, Quepem, the same day the Goa cabinet decided it was time to open its draft mining policy to scrutiny. At stake was Jolerancho Dongor, a tract of traditional forest, grazing and agricultural lands which Messrs Shantilal K. and Brothers Pvt. Ltd. want to rip open. Following ‘due process’, the company presented its Rapid Environmental Assess-ment and Environmental Management Plan to residents of Cawrem and Maina. The company brought its supporters and a hundred or so ‘letters of support’. Its presentation would have been funny had the implications not been so serious. Played out as the farce it was, a lecturer in Konkani translated slides in English projected from the company’s laptop, which, because it was so bright, could not be viewed unless one stood a foot away from the laptop itself.

The plan provided some comic relief. One such gem: “The local people would rather than benefited due to the provision of infrastructure provided”. The firm set aside Rs 50,000 to replace the thousands of trees it hacked down, and Rs 1.20 lakh for tankers to sprinkle water on the roads to assuage the threat of dust and promised to “ensure green belt development along the boundary wall of mine to reduce visual impact”.

But what no one expected, least of all the Collector, was the strength of the protest: the hall was packed with women from Cawrem and Maina and 70 men and women who come all the way from Paroda at their own cost to show support; 222 letters of protest were filed.

Joao Fernandes, a lawyer, charged the mine owners with illegally operating without clearances from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and in contravention of the Supreme Court’s 2004 rulings. Asked later whether the charge of being ‘illegal’ had any worth, the Collector said there appeared to be ‘grey’ areas in the law.

What he may not have wanted to say is both the Collector and the Goa State Pollution Control Board can only act as ‘postmen’ for the MoEF, where minutes of the hearing will be glanced at and ‘environmental clearances’ granted a good six or seven months after the mining company has already taken away two hills.

Earlier this year, the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, and Goa Foundation, Mapusa, have published studies indicting the mining industry and worse, a committee within the MoEF that recommends mining proposals, conferring on them what is ironically referred to as ‘environment clearances’.

One hopes that a mining policy from Goa will overrule the MoEF’s blatantly pro-mining stance, although, in any case, both studies mentioned above must be the starting point for any discussion and debate on mining. One suspects that a policy taking these two studies into consideration, and those of the National Institute of Oceanography, may well propose a blanket ban on open-cast mining in Goa for the next 20 years.

In fairness before the law, the mining companies in Goa should be given that same time to rehabilitate the lands they have already devastated.

Hartman de Souza is a theatre veteran based in Pune