Mining in Goa: Where did it all go wrong?

Mining in Goa: The effects on our land, our waterways, our health and our economic futures

Aside from our mineral assets being taken without our consent and redistributed to the wealthy few, what else went wrong with mining in Goa?

This is the third part of a series.  Read the other parts here

To be fair mining of itself is not the core issue, it is the abuses surrounding the industry that creates problems. Within reasonable confines the earth supports our welfare. It supplies natural resources and man has the intelligence to not only farm these, but also transmute these into more sophisticated materials for our individual, local, national and international trade. This round of sustainable economic activity in turn provides work and livelihoods for the people of Goa. It can further provide an opportunity to save our mineral revenues for future generations, for example in ‘future-proof’ savings plans such as ‘zero loss permanent funds’

In principle there is nothing wrong with an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, but how honest has the mining industry been? How transparent have our media and politicians been in reporting on the less salubrious aspects of these activities? What are the tangible effects of uncontrolled mining? What damage has maverick mining done to our welfare?

The Goenchi Mati Movement (GMM) has proven the case that Goa’s mineral assets are completely and exclusively the property of the citizens of Goa. This legal and constitutional premise renders Goans the current and enduring legal custodians of Goa’s environment and minerals for future generations.

Rights however, are inextricably linked to responsibilities. As custodians we have a responsibility, individually and as a community, to examine and rectify any anomalies we discover in how our mineral resources are mined and disposed of. This entails monitoring the processes and activities of our governing bodies as well as ensuring proper distribution of our minerals once they have been converted into currency.

Thus far due to unmonitored and chronic mismanagement, each and every one of us has sustained substantial economic losses as a direct result of illegal mining activities. Following a Supreme Court ruling, the estimated ‘recoverable’ figure stood at Rs. 65,000 crores and is the subject of a legal case by Goa Foundation.

However, aside from the monetary calculations of damages, there is an additional set of important concerns that relate to the immediate effects of out-of-control mining. What are these and how do they impact on us directly?

The key concerns broadly divide into two sets of issues:

  • Multiple, flagrant and consistent violations of mining law and regulations
  • The flouting of environmental, community and civic laws which attack the roots of our daily lives, wellbeing and social infrastructure.

In November 2010 a Commission of Inquiry led by Retd. SC Justice M.B. Shah was set up by the union government to examine illegalities in iron ore mining in of Goa, Odisha and Jharkhand. The resulting definitive report on Goa was released in Parliament in 2012. The following extract from the findings gives an indication of the litany of offences:

  • mining without a licence
  • mining outside the lease area
  • undertaking mining in a lease area without taking approval of the concerned State Government for transfer of concession
  • raising of minerals without lawful authority
  • raising of minerals without paying royalty in accordance with the quantities and grade
    mining in contravention of a mining plan
  • transportation of raised mineral without lawful authority
  • mining and transportation of raised mineral in contravention of applicable Central and State Acts and rules thereunders
  • conducting of multiple trade transactions to obfuscate the origin and source of minerals in order to facilitate their disposal
  • tampering with land records and obliteration of inter–State boundaries with a view to conceal mining outside lease areas; and
  • forging or misusing valid transportation permits and using forged transport permits and other documents to raise, transport, trade and export minerals

The Shah commission reported that large-scale mining and the overexploitation of minerals would result in changes to the natural eco-system of the area. This in turn would affect the tourism industry vital to the economy. It raised concerns as to the sustainability of minerals and mining, and the effective dilution of Goa’s legacy for future generations.

Rs. 35,000 crores . . .
extracted outside of mining lease areas’,
The Shah Commission

The Shah Commission estimated that an amount of Rs. 35,000 crores was recoverable on account of ore being extracted outside of mining lease areas. It also estimated that based on the known reserves of 577 million tons, even at an extraction rate of 30 million tons per year, the minerals would last for only 20 years, which would be unfair to future generations.

. . .. (mineral resources) will last for only 20 years
which would be unfair to future generations
The Shah Commission

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Goa Legislative Assembly, under the chairmanship of the then leader of the opposition, Manohar Parrikar of the BJP, submitted its report in September 2011. It alleged that among the many irregularities it uncovered were illegal extraction where royalty appears to have been paid, ore extracted in excess of production without payment of royalties, large-scale damage to the environment. A conservative estimate of the loss was estimated at Rs. 3,500 crores due to ore being exported without royalty being paid.

Rs. 3,500 crores lost to the state on account
of ore being exported without royalty being paid’,
Goa Public Accounts Committee, 2011

The following year the PAC Committee concluded its report. It specified that illegal mining has resulted in strain on infrastructure, ecology, and agriculture. Most alarmingly, in referring to large-scale mining, the report states that

. . . if not curbed immediately the practise (uncontrolled mining)
would destroy the water security of the state’.
PAC Committee

The production of iron-ore in Goa has been growing at a rate of around 10% per annum, resulting in the creation of large tracts of wastelands, severe degradation of land and forest and loss of Goa’s unique biodiversity.

Aside from The Shah Commission and PAC reports there have been a number of studies conducted into the toxic effects of mining on agriculture, health and Goa’s unique ecology. Dust, noise, movement and vibration, deterioration of water quality, soil contamination and poor crops, loss of river life, and truck accidents. In particular, air pollution has resulted in consistent annual increases in respiratory disease within the poorest of our communities.

The EAC report of the MoEF, the ISM Dhanbad report, the WGEEP report, and the CEE report all demonstrate how abuses by the mining industry with regard to environmental legal processes and disregard for environmental norms, engendered this destructive cycle.

  • In 1985 The National Institute of Oceanaography found that the clam fisheries and the bottom fauna of the Goan river mouths were nearly extinct due to the vast mining sediments.
  • The mining belt has witnessed severe ground water depletion
  • Dust is a major contributing factor for respiratory disease. 25,000 people were diagnosed in Curchorem alone.
  • In 1993, it was found that agricultural fields were raised by one metre over a period of 20 years, due to run-offs from mining. Yields had plummeted by 80%, agriculture was no longer viable and barges were found to be damaging the khazan bunds, making large areas of reclaimed land unfertile.

Following from the release of the Shah Commission Report, the Ministry of Environment and Forests appointed an Expert Appraisal Committee to look at 139 environmental clearances given to mining leases in Goa. Nineteen mining leases were within protected areas, 22 within the buffer zone. False information had been provided in 29 cases and all eighteen working leases within ten kilometers of protected areas were non-compliant with conditions of the environmental clearances.

The Centre for Environmental Education, Ministry of Environment and Forests was tasked to document the EIAs and ECs of the mining leases by the Goa government. As one might expect, the study uncovered widespread violations including clear misrepresentation of facts and violations of the environmental laws.

Who or what is to blame for these all-pervasive and catastrophic effects?

The PAC, Shah Commission and CEC have accused the workings of the state governance system of wrongdoing. The PAC Report went further. It charged the department of mines, the pollution control board, the forest department, the police, the ministry of environment and forests, the Indian Bureau of Mines and the Director General of Mines Safety of turning a blind eye to illegalities in mining.

The Shah Commission places the blame squarely on collusion between powerful, self-interested stakeholders. ‘ . . . such illegal acts can’t happen without connivance of the politicians, bureaucrats and lessees. There is a complete collapse of the system.”

How can we address this impending ecological and environmental collapse while maintaining some form of wealth-generating mineral extraction?

The Goenchi Mati Movement (GMM), alongside Goa Foundation, conducted an in-depth examination of the status of mining in Goa. As a result GMM have proposed a number of measures that are gaining both public and cross-party political support. The aim is to adopt inclusive, fair and practical approaches to addressing the needs and rights of: the Goan people, the demands of modern-day economics, as well as the requirements of the mining industry, those mining dependents and the overall future state development planning.

Many of the negative ecological effects that were documented, showed some signs of recovery during the period of the recent mining ban. Improved water quality saw rice production successfully reinstated by some farmers in the mining belt. This suggests that ‘managed’ mining may be a viable, economical and sustainable option.

GMM has tabled some workable solutions:-

In terms of economics: GMM proposes that assets derived from the sale of Goan minerals be invested in a ‘permanent’ fund with a lifetime dividend payable to each and every Goan. This would work just like the National Pension Scheme and would be maintained in perpetuity for future generations.

Infrastructural improvements to mining: the existing stockpiles of surplus mineral deposits can be sold to support the cost of restorative action. This could entail locating and initiating new long-term, viable mines, implementing the NH17 highway extension (from Mapusa via Dharbandora to Balli) to serve the mining belt, and using mining waste deposits to restore the land from illegal mines in wildlife sanctuaries.

Combat environmental damage: Cap mining at a sustainable amount of 12 million tons per annum with the flexibility to raise or lower that in response to environmental requirements.

Prevent future mineral exhaustion: cap mining to a sustainable amount at a two-hundredth of the proven reserves ensuring the mineral resource will last for at least a further seven generations.

Stop inefficient mining: manganese, iron and bauxite ores contain gold and heavy metals. Overburden can be further processed to extract valuable minerals instead of being discarded.

Reduce the number of mines: There are around 88 mines at present. Further develop the viable ones and close the others.

These actions are supported by the findings of the DISHA report by TERI. This recommends that the goal for mining activities should be to shift towards sustainable and controlled mining with limited environmental impact:

  • Groves and other sensitive ecosystems should be declared ecologically sensitive areas and no mining should be permitted in these areas.
  • Mining should be discontinued in the catchment of water bodies
  • Use of eco-friendly mining practices: underground mining should be explored where viable as the environmental impact is much less than in open-cast mining.
  • Upgrading and maintenance of civil infrastructures: improve road infrastructure and introduce measures to prevent trucks from overloading.
  • Landscaping and rehabilitate of mined-out areas: restoration of native ecosystems or pre-mining land use, or development of new landforms and land uses, which will bring about a greater community benefit.

First there was an allegation of a loss from mining of Rs. 3,500 crores (PAC Report), Rs. 35,000 crores (Shah Commission), and now after the 2014 Supreme Court judgement, the amount legally recoverable stood at at least Rs. 65,000 crores! You can read about this and the implications in next week’s article.

This is the third part of a series.  Read the other parts here

By Sarah Dynah McGinnis

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