SEBASTIAN RODRIGUES laments the fact that the political class has failed to act against mining, thus betraying the people of Goa
One cannot but express utter disgust at the stance of all political parties in Goa – national as well as regional – contesting the Lok Sabha elections on the crucial life-threatening problem confronting Goa: open-cast iron ore, manganese and bauxite mines. Even though the problem is common knowledge in Goa, learnt through the experience of more than half a century of open-cast mining, the political class – irrespective of whether they are right, centre or left –continues to betray the people of Goa in the most shameful manner.
It is well established by now that mining is Goa's number one enemy, because besides destroying human and animal habitat and health, it is taking away the elixir of life everyday by drying up every possible water body – our springs, our wells, our ponds, our lakes, our rivulets – and every other source of water. Japan and China have undoubtedly benefited by sucking Goa dry. A few mining companies who have been into this dig-and-sell business have made thousands of crores of rupees in the process. And political parties are fighting shy of attacking the industry, since it provides them funding.The mining industry has succeeded in making Goa poorer and more dependent by kicking its belly (agriculture) and choking its throat (water). Mining companies all over Goa are having a field day due to the well-organised nexus between the political parties and the state machinery. A few days ago, the press in Goa highlighted the fact that mining companies in Goa are amongst the topmost contributors to the two big National Parties – the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
This explains why these political parties are allowing Goa to be bled dry in spite of being fully aware of the ground realities. The political compulsions that have evolved, due to funding from mining companies, ensure that they do not work to stop this, thus betraying the people of Goa. This explains why the BJP as well as the INC have never raised the issue of the mining industry as a major threat to Goa and its survival for the next generation.
Both the parties are in the midst of a blissful honeymoon with the mining companies. Otherwise why did the BJP's Shripad Naik never open his mouth in Parliament regarding the mining threat in Goa and demand that the MoEF stop giving environmental clearances for open-cast iron ore mining in Goa? The same question needs to be answered by the INC's Fransisco Sardinha. Mining in Goa does not even figure in his list of priorities, which is topped by legalising bullfights on account of the lucrative betting involved. He and his predecessor Churchill Alemao are both responsible for maintaining silence on the mining issue in Goa. To add insult to injury, Churchill Alemao's minister brother, Joaquim Alemao, is in the mining business. No wonder then that Churchill could not raise his voice (even in Konkani) in Parliament against the mining trade in Goa, as the trade fetches crores of rupees to his family.
The INC has gifted Pernem feudal lord and party treasurer Jitendra Deshprapbhu to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) as its candidate. Deshprabhu has a personal interest in the bauxite mining trade through operations in Korgao, Pernem. Can the public expect anything from this man, whose family owns land in 23 of the 27 villages in Pernem taluka? I don't expect anything in defence of Goa against mining from him. As treasurer of the INC for so many years, he certainly knows how much the political parties are dependent upon mining companies.
This has led to the grant of liberal environmental clearances by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF). The clearances granted for mining leases have so far crossed three hundred, and many more are in the pipeline. This is a huge exploitation of Goa, at the cost of future generations. Only a few people in the present generation are benefiting from mining in the short term, by operating as truck owners/drivers and workers. It is indeed a tragedy that political parties in Goa, especially the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Shiv Sena, refuse to understand and act firmly against mining. The Shiv Sena candidate for North Goa Upendra Gaonkar, for example, still believes that mining is the backbone of the Goan economy, even though annual contributions from mining to the State government in Goa barely cross Rs 20 crore, while the annual income by the mining industry is reportedly more than Goa's state debt for the past 5 years!
The CPI in Goa is actually in a unique position to bring about the desired change for Goa in its present and future. The uniqueness of its position is due to a well-established network of the working class that is rife with huge possibilities. But the fear of antagonising a part of the working class has led the party to treat mining as a holy cow. The CPI too has thus betrayed the future generations of Goa.
The Maharastrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), though an interesting regional party, chooses to maintain silence when it comes to mining. This party, which is part of the ruling coalition at the state level, is also contesting the Lok Sabha elections. It tasted power in Goa for over decade and a half when post-Liberation Goa began its journey with independent India in the 1960s. The first chief minister, Dayanand Bandodkar of the MGP, himself owned mines; and so does the second chief minister, Bandodkar's daughter Shashikala Kakodkar. No wonder the MGP continues to be shaky in its stand on the mining industry in Goa, and cannot even be expected to change its policies because power relations within the party are largely dominated by mining interests. Even though Goa bleeds due to the mining industry, the MGP shows no concern, nor can any be expected. One only hopes for a miracle to happen for a turnaround to take place in its position towards mining. But as of now its candidate for North Goa Pandurang Raut maintains a silence on the issue.
I have not checked what are the funding sources of United Goans' Democratic Party (UGDP) from the mining industry, but it is yet to explain to the public the nexus between the UGDP and Goa's Dempo mining company that is involved in takeover of tribal land for mining purposes in Jharkhand, where it has an MLA in Manoharpur. The UGDP's candidate for South Goa Mathany Saldanha is vocal about a number of issues, particularly those related to coastal people like the fishermen, but he has performed poorly when it comes to mining. The press reported that he is not in favour of renewal of mining leases by the central government. While this is a welcome position, it seems to be only an election trick without any basis whatsoever. A number of mines have already got their mining leases renewed, and they have even declared so in the newspapers.
The message to all the candidates contesting the elections is that the bulk of open-cast mining in Goa is no doubt 'legal', but is yet destructive, exploitative and life-threatening. Hence, 'legal' as well as 'illegal' mining in Goa are unwanted intruders that must be forced out of the door before they complete their mission of swallowing the entire state of Goa. Reluctance by political parties contesting Lok Sabha elections to heed this message means that the contesting political parties have become irrelevant to life in Goa.