Call for cap on mining in Goa

Lobby opposes 10 km buffer zone around sanctuaries

But, what are the costs of mining over 55 million tonnes of iron ore in a state that occupies just 0.1 per cent of India’s land mass? Devastation. The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) was told at its public hearing in Goa on Monday.

Ninety per cent of Goa’s mining leases are within notified wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests and the worst affected have been tribal farming communities like the ‘Gaudas’ and the ‘Velips’. In Rama Velip’s Colomb village, 1500 of 1700 hectares is under mining. The seven mines being operated there have ruined large tracts of paddy fields, Velip told the WGEEP chaired by Madhav Gadgil.

“There are no mining practices to speak of, and the idea is to take out as much as quickly as possible,” Goa Foundation head Claude Alvares said, calling for a cap on the quantum of mining. In some mines ore extraction has gone way below the water table drying up water aquifers in villages like Sirigao, Colomb and Pissurlem.

Propelled by China’s increasing demand for low grade ore — which is the only kind available in Goa — iron ore prices have shot up from $15 per tonne in 2002 to the current average of $120 per tonne. One of Goa’s leading iron ore exporters hit 75 per cent profit margins last year, economist Rajendra Kakodkar said, stressing that profits made by ore exporters would far outstrip the state’s Rs 6,000 crore budget.

The scramble for a slice of the pie has also brought in a host of fly-by-night operators, many of them acting as fronts for ministers and politicians. BJP leader Manohar Parrikar told the state assembly recently that 20 per cent of mining operations in Goa are illegal, and this has not been contradicted by the government.

Under the Portuguese regime 806 mining concessions had been given out in Goa to be run in perpetuity. In 1985, the Centre changed the concession to leases, retaining 595 of them. According to the state’s mines department, 115 mines are operating legally, and 337 are queued up for renewal of licences. “Those not in operation have been kept on hold till a mineral policy is out,” the department’s official Hector Fernandes said.
According to the Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association (GMOEA) the industry paid Rs 2,000 crore in duties to the Centre last year and contributes to 24 per cent of Goa’s corporate tax kitty.

While ecologists argue that more reserve forests need to be brought under the Western Ghats corridor to ensure the protection of biodiversity, the mining lobby says it would strongly resist the 10 km buffer zone around sanctuaries which would shut down mining in Goa and put 75,000 people out of work.

But has a cost-benefit study on mining in Goa ever been done? Dr V S Vijayan, a panel member asked. He said a moratorium on mining activity in the Western Ghat region would be justified till such a study is carried out. This was the panel’s sixth meeting to find a middle ground between development and ecology in the Western Ghats.

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