History of Mining in Goa

Reports of minerals in Goa date back very far. There are reports that Jains living in Cudnem used to extract gold in Goa. The existence of iron ore mines was known to the Portuguese from the early 1700s, but it was hushed up for fear of invasion by others. However, iron ore was extracted through the entire Portuguese period by certain groups, notably the tribe known as Dovolos, based in Navelim and other areas of Salcette.

The first mining manifest was given in 1905 to Aly Ismail Mirsa Bagdad, a Turk from Constantinople, to mine at Domingod-Molem near Colem. In 1910, a French company, Compagnie de Mines de Fer de Goa, made plans to extract manganese ore from the Bicholim area, and transport it by rail through Sanquelim, Ponda, Raia and Loutolim to Margao.

Mining really took off after the World War as demand soared for the reconstruction. Japan in particular found it easier politically to import iron ore from Portuguese Goa instead of British India. By the time of liberation in 1961, some 800 mining concessions had been granted.

This early mining was highly manual. Pundalik Naik’s Acchev (“The Upheaval“) describes this period very well. Mining used pickaxes and shovels. Women and children carried the mineral on their heads upto bullock carts. The minerals were then transported upto the jetty, where sail boats were loaded, again by hand. Finally at Mormugao, the boats were unloaded and ships loaded, a third time manually. The money paid by the miners were many times more than was possible through agriculture and traditional occupations. The whole society unravelled in front of this greed.

Over time, different aspects of mining got mechanised, larger, quicker, and more efficient. Explosives instead of pickaxes.  Bullock carts were replaced by trucks, often driven by young men. Barges instead of wooden sail boats. Mechanised unloading and loading at Mormugao. Progress is relentless. It continues today, machinery within mines are becoming bigger. Trucks are going from 10 tons to 25 tons. Rail and closed conveyors are being considered as alternative transportation options. Barges have gone from 600 tonnes to 2,000 tonnes.

Along the way, traditional societies collapsed. Migration into Goa was heavy. Handling of machinery – trucks, barges – was the domain of men. Women lost status – from being equals in the fields, they were non-earning. As scale increased, the damage multiplied. Fields became less and less productive. Smoke was spewed by trucks while iron ore dust blew off trucks and barges. Khazan bunds were damaged by the heavy speedy barges, leading to a collapse of another long lived society.

In 1987, after a number of previous efforts, the Indian Government passed the Abolition Act, which converted perpetual concessions into fixed term mining leases. The erstwhile concession holders were compensated under the Act for this change. There were two boom and bust cycles during this period, with busts in the late 1970s and early 1990s. At the bottom, things were very difficult, and making money was a struggle. Mining was barely profitable. It is likely that a number of questionable practices began in this time.

The China boom in the early 2000s caused iron ore prices to soar. Naturally, this was accompanied with a mad rush to extract everything and send it to China. Malpractices became common place. There were numerous PILs filed, and numerous mines shut down as well on different grounds. It all culminated with the release of the explosive Shah Commission Report in the Parliament, and the subsequent bans.

During the Supreme Court hearings following the Shah Commision, it became clear that there were numerous, nay countless, serious violations by the miners. The Supreme Court changed direction. It ruled that all mining after 22-Nov-2007 was fully illegal, raising the prospect of recovering some of the loot, and making a fresh start for mining in Goa. The Supreme Court also ordered the creation of the Goa Iron Ore Permanent Fund, laying down the path for a fair to all mining system, what we are proposing.

Yet the BJP government has thrown all this away, and restarted mining by renewing leases to the same miners. The estimated loss is Rs. 1,44,000 crores, Rs. 10 lakhs for every man, woman and child. If we do not act, how will we be remembered in history? The nalayak generation? The old fools?