Greed and Dust in Goa
‘‘Only when the last tree has been cut; only when the last fish has been eaten : only when the last river has been poisoned; only then will they know you cannot eat money’’
This is a saying of Native
American Cree people that has
been quoted as an epigraph to the book. The *Book [Eat Dust -Mining And Greed In Goa by Hartman De Souza] is an outcome of the author's intense engagement with the mining mafia that has and is devouring the ecology of Goa. "Goa is so tiny, older Goans refer to it as their 'mandkulem'... a baby crawling on the floor ....". The baby is "helplessly" under attack from three wolves on the prowl. They being Tourism/Real Estate & Infrastructure, the Mining Industry and Consumerism. The author began making notes for this book in 2006 when he had a foreboding about what mining would do to the landscapes that he had cherished for years. In his own words this chronicle is "...a factual blow-by-blon account of what actually happened on the ground". The book begins with a neat map of most of the physical landscape that the book is situated in. On one end of the map is the river Curca that flows in lo the river Kushawati. There is a road from the river that leads to Cupar, Takiar, Ambaulim and Quepem. These are names that the reader will come across repeatedly. On both sides of the road are the hills and the mines that are devouring them. On the map there is Paik's temple and Paik's spring that feeds the river Curca. There is the Government High School at Maina and Cheryls farm.
Mining in Goa can be traced back to 1905 when Japanese prospectors discovered the first traces of Iron and Manganese ore in Goa. The account begins from Maina, a village on the foothills of the Western Ghats where the author's sister, Cheryl has a farm. In fact the five mines on the map are in the three kilometres stretch from Maina to Cawrem. "...some two-three acres in width and deep enough to swallow a seven storey building" is the horror carved out of thickly forested hill by the Eomento Resources mine. The forested hill existed in the 1990s. The plunder continued and was increased by the mine owners who had inside information that a 'Central Inquiry' was on the cards. This was the Shah Commission of Inquiry for Illegal Mining of Iron Ore and Manganese that was set up in 2010. After two-visits in 2011, in 2012 the Shah Commission banned mining in Goa. It's report said that "iron ore worth Rs 35,000 crores was plundered by the mining companies, committing theft of Government property".
The "monstrous scale" of mining in Goa can be gauged by the figures released by the Comptroller General of the Indian Bureau of Mines that Goa had iron ore stock piles of about 700 million tonnes. 700 millon tonnes were supposed to be stacked on only 15 plots of land that were registered for the purpose. Actually mining companies had taken up plots all over Goa to pile Iron ore and "In the worst case, they had encroached on about 20 kilometres of the banks of the river Mandovi...".
Just past the Fomento mining pit is Jollerancho Dongor that was under excavation by Joachim Alemao, a Congress party member and Urban development Minister of Goa (2007-2012). A dongor is a forested hill or better still, a forested hill with sacred springs. Springs with abundant water hinder mining since to reach the ore the water has to be drained out. Further, the deeper the mines the more aquifers they burst. The spring from Jollerancho Dongor joined the river Curca. Mine owners choked it with a few hundred tonnes of mining waste but water seeks its own level. After 2012 ban on mining the spring fought its way back on the back of heavy monsoon rains.
The author had many a time trekked up to Paik's spring " to drink the sweetest water imaginable". In 2009, he and his friends climbed their way up to the spring in order to check on the activities of Joachim Alemao. The hill was crowded with cashew trees and the overwhelming fragrance of cashew flowers gagged many of the climbers. There was a low hum of mining machinery and this could have driven away the small animals like monkeys. Near the mines was the deafening noise of earthmowers and bulldozers. There was fine red dust all around and the trees had turned brown. From the edge of the pit, the drop from the tree line was a good ten metres, the mining activity of Joaquim Alemao was steadily gnawing away at Jollerancho Dongor.
Politics and mining are intertwined in Goa. Dayanand Bandolkar, the first chief minister was the owner of a mine and handpicked by the mining companies. He conveniently destroyed the village governance system which the Portuguese colonisers referred to as "communidade". Power devolved to village panchayats which had fallen into the hands of "political rogues" even in the late 1970s. Mining in Goa is controlled by four "thoroughbred families—Dempo, Salgaocar, Timblo and Chowgule" and Sesa Goa that is now owned by the behemoth Vedanta. In 2010 Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi put a moratorium on all new mining clearances. A Goa minister coined the term "legal mining" and said it that it was permissible. In 2009 Digambar Kamat, the Chief Minister, said that no new mining operations would be allowed in the Western Ghats and yet the five mines between Maina and Cawrem continued to excavate without any clearances.
Obtaining Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and holding public hearings that precedes mining clearances were customised to suit the interest of mining companies with the active connivance of the concerned government agencies. Thus there is a Hyderabad based Bhagavathi Ana Labs that had perfected the art of cutting/pasting 100 page reports to facilitate EIA. In 2008 they opened a branch in Goa. Public hearings were no better either. The owners and their managers arranged for the venue to be packed with their employees, the truck drivers who drove the mining company trucks and their relatives. After the hearing the gathering was treated to food and drinks. The managers would come with a few hundred letters of consent with "random signatures and fake addresses". Bhagavathi Ana Labs would also be present with 'facts' and Goa State Pollution Control Board would be there to video record the proceedings that commenced with the entry of the collector. A lecturer from a local college would translate the EIA to Konkani and he knew the script by heart. When confronted about his performance of translating facts to the Goan public he would reply that he was just doing his job. Most meetings would end with the public raising objections and the collector would then draw curtains on the 'farce'. On rare occasions, the script did take an uncharted turn. In one such hearing a freedom fighter's son who had sold his family land to mining interests stood up to speak. He said that contrary to public perception "....it (mining) will be good for all of us, good for our village". At that moment all hell broke loose, a few spot on the ground, many hurled choicest abuses and shouts of "Eat dust, eat dust, eat dust" filled the venue.
The EIAs of Jollerancho Dongor and some other mines were sent to Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi. In their response CSE warned that there were five mines surrounding Jollerancho Dongor and the cumulative effect of mining would be disastrous. The report also pointed out that if all the iron ore projects submitted since 2007 are denied then 55 million tonnes of waste will be generated every year and this will encroach on agricultural land.
Joaquim Alemao, in the process of plundering Jollerancho Dongor, had an eye on the farm run by Cheryl in Maina. After her husband's demise in 2006, Alemao offered Rs 25 crores to buy her out. He was willing to bid higher but Cheryl had no intention to sell. In moments of desperation Alemao had referred to her as a 'tigress'. Cheryl had a furniture workshop that also catered to the export market. In order to intimidate her, the Alemaos went so far as to interfere with her business process. In one instance, to hamper the fulfilment of an export order they went to the extent of having her power supply and telephone connection disconnected. The night before the date of shipping, two key personnel of Cheryl’s business were arrested. The transporter was threatened with iron rods and chain brandishing hoods. Finally, Cheryl escorted the container truck all the way to the docks while Alemao's men continued their threatening sorties all along the route. In 2007, Joaquim ordered a gang of workers to hack down all the trees on the hill leading to Cheryl's farm. The author sent letters to the state secretariat, the forest department and the conservator of forest. The last named went to the extent of admitting to Cheryl that his hands were tied and that all his people have been "bought out by mining companies".
Joaquim Alemao's mining activities ensured that "only about half of Jollerancho Dongor" was left. He spared the northern portions of the hill but in 2008 MFC Industrials Pvt Ltd, a Canada based company operating through Magnum Minerals Pvt Ltd had secured, the "necessary permissions to totally destroy the eastern flank of the same hill". Behind tha mine was Paik's spring. Their attack in the name of mining was so vicious that at the top of the hill a whole line of trees was tilting at the edge of a man-made cliff that was "much higher than a fourteen—story building" and below was a bottom-less pit. Prashant Sahu, the key man who ran this operation was a big time operator backed by big international finance and was distinct from the mining families of Goa and also the politician miners. Magnum Minerals operated at frantic pace and had the 2012 order banning mines not intervened, they would have completely destroyed Paik's spring.
The author acknowledges his debt to Justice Santosh Hegde's report submitted in December 2008 and his report shamed governments at the centre and the state. He also asserts that it was Justice M B Shah Commission's investigation that finally saved Goa's forests and water and not the home-grown judicial activism spearheaded by the Goa Foundation. The anti-mining lobby in Goa worked under a broad consensus of "...petitions, petitions and more petitions....". However, that the judiciary will not act against moneyed interests especially at the lower levels was evident in the 1970s when mining operations were expanding in Goa. Aggrieved parties whose land were inundated with mining waste were told by magistrates to take the money from the big companies and forget about it. Coupled with this was the delay in the judicial process. The High Court of Bombay, Panjim Bench, took eight years to pass an order in favour the Goa Foundation's petition filed in 1992 against the Chowgule family for setting up a plant in a protected forest. It must be emphasised that the plant was in operation during the eight year period.
Cheryl attended every meeting of the anti-mining movement from 2006 but she carried the feeling within her that while petitions and legal proceedings were being pursued, mining was taking place at a rapid force. Claude Alvares, director of the Goa Foundation, suggested that she may "have to take the fight to the streets". That is exactly what she did. Cheryl, her mother Dora and two other women were sent to jail in 2008 for "chaining themselves across Dinar Tarcar's mine". They were joined at the entrance to the mine by about a hundred others. Things went out of hand at a later stage when truck owners and contactors working for the mine isolated the four women to physically intimidate them. Dora's driver was thrashed, a documentary filmmaker present at the site of the protest was pushed to the ground and kicked. Dora's car was damaged and all this happened in the presence of the police. Dinar Tarcar was the legal representative for all the legal heirs of one Zoiram Neogi, the original leaseholder of the mine whose environment clearance had expired. A 2007 application to condone the delay was allowed by Digambar Kamat and by 2009-10 he had killed the stream and stripped Tembechem Dongor bare. The four women attended all the court hearings and it took almost four years before the case was thrown out. Dora was always of the view that civil disobedience was the only way and mining would not stop unless the mining interests were forced to do so. A second blockade of Tarcar's mine was planned. However, an email to a large group marked by one of the confidants effectively subverted the planned agitation.
Apart from a few notable individual exceptions, the Church in Goa has maintained a studious silence on mining although it was adversely impacting large sections of the Catholic population, some of whom trace their origin to the Scheduled Tribes. Parish priests often ended up blessing new trucks with messages like "Jesus, Pray for Us" or "Sweet Heart of Jesus" emblazoned on their windscreens. The trucks were purchased to be put in the service of the mining industry. It was only after the Shah Commission report was made public and the Supreme Court ban came into effect in 2012 that the Archdiocese of Goa issued a statement condemning mining. The Church in Goa is not only accused 11 facilitating the transfer of prized land to real estate sharks, it is also guilty of the charge of having destroyed the mand(s) or traditional community spaces of the Gavde community. The mand is a panchayati as well as a place where the Gavde community gathers to celebrate plantation and harvesting seasons. Although Christianity came to Goa in the early sixteenth century, the converts have continued their traditional practices. From the late 1980s the Church orchestrated a campaign to "kill the mands and it was referred to as a "place of devils".
The English press in Goa, apart from the Herald, has been silent on the illegal mining in the state and this is explained by the ownership pattern of most publications that are controlled by mining interests. The Herald was a paper trusted by Goa's Catholic population. The induction of one Sujoy Gupta before the elections in 2011 into the Herald subverted the publication. Gupta was earlier in the employment of Fomento resources owned by the Timblos. The anti-mining lobby was aware of his disruptive capabilities. Gupta had once pretended to be a protestor outside a mine owned by his employers. He had also filed a Rs 500 crores defamation suit against an activist in the Calcutta High Court. However, this time he started a virulent campaign against "illegal mining" and trapped " all the known rogues belonging to the Congress,...". Congress was routed in the elections by the BJP and some Catholic intellectuals wrote columns welcoming the change. Mission accomplished for the BJP, Sujoy Gupta went back to he Timblo fold.
Rapid unplanned urbanisation of Goa has accompanied the mining trail. The 2011 Census shows that the decadal growth of urban population in Goa is up by 35 per cent whereas the rural population during the same period went down by 18 per cent. Mapusa, the main town in North Goa has steadily encroached on village areas. Fields have been filled up with mining waste and their levels raised to facilitate the construction of shops and residences. It is the same with Panjim and Margao and this has happened over many years. Ambaulim, an urban town in the making is a case in point. At the turn of this century Ambaulim showed sign of being converted into an extended suburb of Quepem. Passing through Ambaulim was a village road wide enough to accommodate two passing buses. Later this road became a bypass for mining trucks and mining dust covered the road and old women were paid to sweep the road and throw the collected dust wherever they could. There were fewer fields, an increasing number of water bodies were filled with weed, the sides of the road were lined with garbage. Vehicles, banks, ATMs, cold storages, shops selling durables were pushing Ambaulim on its course of rapid urbanisation.
Not unexpectedly, mining interests in Goa have problems with wildlife sanctuaries too. In 2004, the Supreme Court had declared there can be no mining within ten kilometres of a wildlife sanctuary. However, the state secretary for forests and water who was also the secretary for mines went ahead to declare that "being such a small mineral rich state", Goa need not have a buffer zone around its wildlife sanctuaries. In 2009, a Goan journalist reported with photographic evidence about the killing of a tiger by an indigenous Goan community. The authorities in their wisdom locked up the messenger with a charge of abetment to poaching. The fact was that there were about 81 mining leases in Sattari, the region there the tiger was trapped and shot dead. In 2012, the Ministry of Environment & Forest had asked the Goa government to prepare a proposal for a tiger corridor. Manohar Parrikar, the chief minister, was not convinced. "So far, only one tiger has been spotted in the Mhadei. One sparrow does not make a summer", he said.
The author admits that they were naive in expecting that the money looted from Goa by the mining barons would be brought back to the state and the rogues, politicians among them included, would be put behind bars. Quite to the contrary, the Supreme Court removed the ban on mining in 2014 and Goa's chief minister inaugurated the mining operations of Vedanta in Goa on 10 August 2015. The book also has a word or two about the Goa's Mud Permanent Fund (GMPF) that is backed by the Goa Foundation. The purpose of GMPF is to ensure that a portion of the mining profits accrue to the fund and consequently the people of Goa. The author is clear to state that "The Goan Mud fund doesn't excite me, though. Is it not a cynical appeal to greed. It sells the larger Goan public the idea that that we can do away with land and water sources as long as the people themselves get the wealth".
The author has faith in his convictions and every page of the book is the product of his close encounters and resistance to interests that are prepared to go very far and don't think twice before selling their grandmothers for a price. Although civil disobedience, the chosen path in this case, has not been able to put an end to mining in Goa, activists have not given up and there have been major successes in other places like Jagatsinghpur (Posco) and Niyamgiri. The narrative in the book makes it clear that the assault on resources in Goa is being led by global interests. On a different note, the author, to borrow a term used by him, is a 'thoroughbred' Goan. He loved nature and animals, likes feni, is a theatre activist and is deeply into Jazz music. There are plenty of references to these pursuits in the book. An index would serve the readers well and perhaps the author and the publishers would give a thought to including one at the end of the book, in its next edition.
*Eat Dust --Mining and Greed in Goa
by Hartman De Souza; Publisher-Harper Litmus; P-ISBN : 978-9.5136-484-9; PP 277; Rs. 350
Vol. 49, No.5, Aug 7 - 13, 2016