'They came calling after her husband died...'
First person account
The writer, a theatre personality, teacher and sometime journalist, talks about how his sister Cheryl, who runs a 350,000 sq mts farm in Maina, Quepem, South Goa has had to battle the mining lobby. Almost all the land around the de Souza farm has been bought over by Minister Joaquim Alemao, one of the biggest mining contractors in Goa today.
I feel good about my sister and her young daughter. Thrice, in escalating order, known politicians have sent emissaries and cronies offering the two an obscene amount of money to sell their farmland for mining. You ask her how much and she’ll tell you enough to pack the entire household, including dogs and chartering a ship and heading off to New Zealand. They came with these offers barely a year after my sister’s husband died on the farm in an accident, thinking she would cave in.
Her reason for not selling is compelling, that she would never be able to look at herself in the mirror again knowing that she had willfully destroyed forests and trees and water. When they bought the land years ago, slaving to repay the loans they took for this, they tested soil. Geologists told them they could be billionaires overnight and pointed to where the richest lode was. They built their farmhouse on that spot.
Goans seem to have lost sight of the larger picture, that for a state barely 110 kilometers long, the so-called legal ‘mining corridor’ is a 95-kilometer long necklace of open cast mining in the very rib of the Western Ghats as they pass through the eastern borders going from north to south.
Sometimes one is not too sure whether to laugh or cry when my sister is congratulated for holding out and selling only when the price climbs higher. So many Goans have advised her to sell you wonder whether they too are into brokering. Some are not so funny at all, the worst perhaps being a Catholic priest who told her to sell and use the money to preach the word of God.
Such incongruities may appear to matter little to most Goans. The cynicism, like greed, seems to be all-pervasive, the axiom in the main being that if you don’t make the bucks quick, someone else will. Illegalities are consistently being legalized in Goa and everyone is encouraged to be an ostrich.
‘Backbone of Goan economy’
Liberalisation in Goa translated into mining barons outsourcing the loot and plunder of the forests to politicians and their cronies and contractors. This translates into wealth and power for themselves and their families for the next ten generations. The greed is all-pervasive and percolates right down to the lowly migrant truck-drivers working for fleet owners, who get ration cards and later voting cards, and includes all those who work for government and also share the loot for looking the other way, or who own trucks. It all comes down to trucks and truck owners, the ones who hand in hundreds of signatures supporting mining at the hitherto farcical public meetings.
This is what everyone with an interest in mining will refer to as the backbone of the Goan economy. I do not have faith in the lower courts. My 83-year-old mother still has to visit one of the lower courts to answer charges of causing damage to the mining company, when all she did was chain herself across the road with her daughter and granddaughter to protect the hills and forests and water. She says there can be nothing legal about taking away those. I can live with a mother like this.