The shocking truth about the theft of Goa’s mineral wealth

The five principles of the Goenchi Mati Movement

What would you say if you were told that each and every member of your family had been unceremoniously and consistently robbed over an eight-year period to the tune of Rupees 3.7 Lakhs? A theft of inherited wealth, passed down through the generations, now almost beyond recovery and the perpetrators yet to be brought to justice.

This is the first part of a series. Read the following parts here

These are the incontrovertible facts about the prolonged siphoning of Goa’s mineral wealth. The shocking truth uncovered by Goa Foundation following a detailed examination of the audited accounts of Sesa Goa/Vedanta.

Previously the Foundation had mounted an in-depth investigation into the issues surrounding mining in Goa, winning a landmark case in the Supreme Court in 2014. The victory consisted of a ruling, which clearly underlined the need for a radical new policy to manage the unrestrained activities of the Goan mining industry. As a direct consequence of these developments, a group of citizens from many backgrounds came together to take up the challenge of fixing mining in Goa. Thus the pioneering Goenchi Mati Movement (GMM) was formed, and in turn a detailed, positive and practical action plan conceived for a way forward.

It’s an open secret that for many years mining companies reigned, unchecked and allowed to accumulate huge wealth from the profiteering and looting of the raw minerals that comprise Goa’s heritage. This was done in concert with central and state governments, making them culpable. As a consequence, we have suffered an unforgivable degradation of our Goan land, heritage and individual welfare.

For example, a staggering 95% of the capital generated by mining over a period of eight years has been lost. This amount is equivalent to double the cumulative State revenue for those years. Just 5% of the capital generated from mining activity was retained by the State, and even this amount can’t be reliably traced.

At the core of its argument, the GMM maintains that the mineral wealth of the land of Goa belongs legally, morally and incontrovertibly to the people and future generations of Goa. Equally, they maintain that the value of this asset must be preserved for the benefit of the Goan community, a view supported by both the Indian Constitution and legal precedent.

The GMM challenges the irresponsible actions of the State. Unethical granting of licences, unregulated and unsustainable mining activities, and the illegal dispersal of capital in the form of profits combine to describe a State administration that has overreached its mandate.

The Constitution dictates that the State should act as a trustee on behalf of the community, not as an owner of the assets. Therefore, the machinery of state has failed to discharge its duty. It has failed in it’s remit to be accountable to the people of Goa.

What does this represent in real terms? The GMM states the case clearly and simply in a set of five principles:
1.Goans own the mineral in common and the state is merely a trustee on behalf of the people and future generations.
2. Minerals are inherited, thus the value of the mineral wealth of Goa must be retained in full, and passed on in its entirety to future generations.

These both are proven and enforceable in law under the Public Trust Doctrine and the Intergenerational Equity Principle memorialised in the Indian Constitution. It includes all natural resources not just iron ore and minerals, but all mainland-based forests, water bodies, rivers and seashores.

3. GMM advocates a measured approach to selling minerals. These minerals are shared land resources, ‘The Commons’, and as such any capital generated from these assets, is owned equally by everyone. Minerals need to be extracted at the appropriate time to fetch the highest price, and be protected against exhaustion through over-mining. This can be described as mining on an ‘as and when required’ basis. Most importantly, it must be ‘Zero Loss mining’ – in other words capturing the full value of the mineral.

4. To retain the value and common ownership all capital generated by the extraction of mineral assets should be invested in a ‘Permanent Fund’. This forever retains the value of the asset and also allows for inflation. Examples of this exist globally in countries such as Norway, Chile, Botswana and Mongolia, and in particular Alaska’s Permanent Fund. Just recently the Indian Supreme Court ruled 10% of iron ore sale value in Goa is to be retained a Permanent Fund. This is a first for India, and a global judicial precedent. A further challenge is now being mounted by GMM to increase this from 10% to the full 100% of the net mineral receipts.

5. To pay a share of the real income from the Permanent Fund i.e. a dividend to every citizen of Goa in perpetuity, a Citizen’s Dividend.

Aside from the attractive prospect of a financial dividend, what will all of this achieve? GMM points to the many benefits including social cohesion, reduced layers of state and political red tape, and the breach of the historic cartel of mining licensing reducing corruption and unmitigated profiteering.

For the individual, the rights associated with shared ownership is set to materialise as the payment of a ‘Citizen’s Dividend’. This will be a huge boost to basic community welfare, enabling improved access for all to what can be prohibitively costly healthcare and education. This form of ‘welfare state system’ will go a long way to addressing the basic needs of the very poorest in our community who struggle to make ends meet.

On a much wider scale the GMM proposal will also serve to put real power firmly back in the hands of the Goan public. Goans can reclaim their birthrights. They will be in a position to reinstate their power to monitor and control state activity in relation to the rate of mining and to receive the income derived from it. To this end all capital as outlined in Principle 4 must bypass the state administration and go directly into the community-owned Permanent Fund. This is the only way to eliminate the possibility of undue interference and arbitrary taxation.

Above and beyond this we have all witnessed the devastation of Goa’s natural forest. The environment has been ravaged resulting in climate change, unpredictable monsoons and directly affected local crops, fishing and the circulation of our waterways.

Brown dust bowls haunt the hills surrounding our homes, farms and wildlife sanctuaries. Seen from the air, as many of us fly into Dabolim, the panorama below is interrupted by a series of barren wastelands. It’s a stark reminder of how greed and plunder inflict a patchwork of shame on the landscape.

Few are publicising the fact that the enormous land wealth is traditionally community-owned property, designated to be held in trust for future generations. The beautiful paddy fields of Goa have been preserved as part of such a system. Goa is the smallest yet one of the richest states in India in terms of our natural resources, not to mention our biodiversity. It is this treasure that is being steadily excavated and systematically stolen from under our very noses.

This theft is not only from us, but from our future generations. We have all witnessed the financial greed fuelled by unchecked mining and condoned by state and central governments. We have seen the destruction of land and property by those with vested interests, contributing to the mass migration from Goa of our brightest and best. We have a duty to the million generations who will follow us, to safeguard their inheritance. Crucially it will be on this issue that future generations will judge us.

The Goenchi Mati Movement is emphatic that we must take responsibility right now to protect our heritage. If we do not act quickly and decisively it may be too late.

To this end GMM are launching a campaign: Ore Chor!144 and urging politicians of all parties to make a pledge that they will ensure the implementation of the five principles and to make that promise a part of their manifesto.

Now is the time and now the opportunity to ensure the preservation of the traditions and culture we hold so dear. It is essential that we resolve to join together to ensure justice is served not only for ourselves, but for the trillions of those yet to be born. We cannot stand by and witness the rape of our land without taking action. We need to work together with good leadership, commitment and determination if we are to halt the decline and ultimate destruction of our ‘Pearl of the Orient’.

This is the first part of a series. Read the following parts here

By Sarah Dynah McGinnis

Leave a Reply