Goa village stands up to powerful mining lobby

Goa village stands up to powerful mining lobby

Residents keep day-long vigil to stop trucks from transporting ore

A mine at Sanvordem. Some 3,000 people live in Caurem and most survive on community farming. But there is absolutely nothing to harvest this year, say villagers. Photos by Andrea Pereira

A month ago these trucks, overloaded with iron ore,  would have made nearly a dozen trips each from the mines in Caurem to the barge loading point at Sanvordem.

For three weeks now, the women of Caurem in Quepem taluk, South Goa have managed to keep the trucks from passing through their village, paralysing the transport of ore from mines operated by the Timblo owned Fomento Resources, Dinar Tarcar and Magnum.
On 23 April, 98 villagers were arrested for blocking the road. But their fight, they say, has only just begun.

In Goa where hundreds of villages have to bear the brunt of environmental costs of open cast mining, Caurem has become the symbol of spirited resistance, a nondescript farming village taking on the muscle of the moneyed and well-connected.

“We would rather die than lose our lands. Where do they expect us to go?” asks Shelavati Velip. The mining is ruining the tribal village’s livelihood, destroying sacred groves and damaging the springs.

Some 3,000 people live in Caurem, most survive on community farming. But there is absolutely nothing to harvest this year. The chilli bushes are dead, the turnips tubes have shrunk in the soil, the vegetables are singed. We walk through the fields to see banana trees layered with ore dust, coconut saplings dying.

“We’ve lived here for generations, never quarrelled over land, or needed government jobs. How can we survive without our farming?” asks Parvati Shankar Velip. The village wants mining to stop, she says, not just the transportation of ore to be regulated.

Propelled by the growing demand from China, Goa exported an unprecedented 55 million tonnes of iron ore this year. Royalty earnings alone fetched Rs 982 crore till March 2011, says Director of Mines Arvind Loliyekar.

But Leader of Opposition Manohar Parrikar who has been monitoring the blatant leakages in royalties and violation of environmental guidelines by the industry says despite the hike in export duty from 5 per cent to 20 per cent, iron ore exports remains a hugely profitable business.

“Their earnings which were in the region of Rs 5,000 crore last year, would have touched Rs 6,000 crore this year,” he says.

Parrikar says considering that a handful of Goan exporters account for 80 per cent of trade, their clout on the political class is enormous. “I shout the most against them, but there are pressures mounted on me too,” he told this newspaper. Sesa Goa, Chowgule & Co, V M Salgaocar, V S Dempo and Sociedade de Fomento were the top iron ore exporters from Goa in 2010.