Goa may be worse than Bellary

Goa may be worse than Bellary

Disaster waiting to happen... In June, the tailing pond of the Fomento group's Cuddegal Mines collapsed, killing 3 people.The mining hurricane that emerged with the Chinese Olympics boom around 2005 and which has by now destroyed huge tracts of Bellary and its forests in Karnataka, has also laid waste large tracts of beautiful Goa. However, since a Congress government rules the small State, the public resentment generated over the havoc caused by greedy iron ore miners remained unacknowledged till the sudden arrival of the Justice Shah Commission of Inquiry two weeks ago.

After that, all hell has broken loose and it now appears that the unfolding scenario may follow closely the developments in Karnataka. In fact, Justice Shah’s report on the state of illegal mining in Goa may have as much, if not greater, fallout that the reports of the Lokayukta and Central Empowered Committee had on the mining industry and politics of Karnataka.

Let me begin with a few simple comparisons between Goa and Bellary. The size of Bellary is 8,477 sq km, while the size of the entire state of Goa is only 3,702 sq km. Bellary is a single district in Karnataka and has 99 operating mines, whereas Goa has close to 135 sanctioned mines (with around 90 operating any given moment). The Goa mining area is actually located in only four talukas out of 12, which means that the 55 million tonnes of ore exported in the last year from Goa was extracted from just one-fourth its total area. The resultant devastation can well be imagined.

This small intensively mined area is within the catchment areas of the Selaulim dam and the Opa Water Works, both of which supply water to almost 80 per cent of its population, and the catchments of seven other rivers. NEERI has established that the Selaulim dam water has iron and manganese in excess of norms. Eighty per cent of the mines are located in forest lands, many protected forests. Many large active mines are within one km of the boundaries of the wildlife sanctuaries in the State and within the Western Ghats.

Unlike Bellary, mining has a long innings in Goa. The earliest leases were granted by the Portuguese from the 1940s onwards: 811 leases were issued. If all are operated, Goa will cease to exist. The government recognises only 336 leases as valid. Despite the EIA notification of 1994, none of these leases sought environment clearance (EC) in the nineties. In 2005, the Supreme Court directed them to obtain environment clearance or close down. Standing at the environment ministry’s gates was A Raja. The rest is history.
From 2005-2009 – when Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh stopped it all with a moratorium – 169 mining leases in Goa had already been granted ECs for a per annum extractive load of 60 million tonnes! (Since we do not have copies of 15 ECs, the final total will be much higher.)

With an ore to waste ratio of 1:3, this meant effective environmental sanction for an extraction of a colossal 180 million tonnes of Goan earth annually. One third of this went to China as ore. The waste went into rivers, paddy fields and the state’s two large estuaries.

None of the ECs required the miners to rehabilitate the harm done to nature over the past two decades of mining: the considerable damage already done to ground water aquifers and water tables, forests, wildlife, biodiversity, agriculture and people’s health. The Ministry of Environment & Forests pretended it was approving new leases and put – for the record – some 50 conditions in each clearance when it knew it had neither the staff nor the inclination to implement any. The Ministry simply ignored the issue of whether the leases it was considering were legally valid or not, saying it was not its concern.

In Goa, Digambar Kamat, Minister for Mines for a record 12 years and Chief Minister for the past four, was able to ensure that no obstructions were placed by his officials on any mining activity. The list of his acts of omission and commission is simply awesome.

a) Mines were allowed to operate on the basis of simple applications filed, no renewal orders issued. Many mines have operated now for 25 years without formal approval orders or lease deeds. All leases expired on 21-11- 2007. All continue to operate.

b) Despite two explicit orders of the Supreme Court – one banning mining operations within 1 km of wildlife sanctuaries and another requiring mines within 10 km to get NOCs from national wildlife board – Kamat ensured mining continued despite objections.

c) Bulk of mines were operated by raising contractors. He dismissed the rules banning such practices on the grounds that everyone in Goa was doing this in any case.
d) Mines were allowed to operate without clearance under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 or the Indian Forest Act, 1927.

e) When villagers revolted or blocked mining trucks, he ensured that the police simply locked them up.

Figures provided to the Public Accounts Committee, by the Goa Mineral Ore Exporters’ Association and data produced in the State Assembly clearly establish that over the last eight years, a total of 20.47 million tonnes were illegally exported and between 2006-2010, a total of 14 million tonnes had been extracted in violation of Environment Protection Act, 1986.

As the complaints of mining damage and illegal mining mounted, Kamat finally constituted in 2008 a Monitoring Committee, headed by the Chief Conservator of Forests. The Committee visited 73 mines over two years (several are yet to be visited) but it probably gave up when it found that all its reports only gathered dust.

(The writer is one of the country's leading environmentalists and director of Goa Foundation, an environment action group that has filed over 100 PILs on mining, forests, beaches and other issues.)

 

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