Elections

Politics Of Mining: Why Some Goans Don't Want Mining To Resume

In Bicholim in North Goa where mining has resumed for the first time since the 2018 ban, villagers fear environmental damage and loss of homes, even as the 'mining lobby' remains a strong political player in Lok Sabha 2024 elections in the coastal state.

Rakhi Bose/Outlook
Residents of villages near recently reopened mines in Bicholim remain concerned about hazardous effects of mining on local water bodies Photo: Rakhi Bose/Outlook
info_icon

The first rains in Goa are not expected to hit for a couple more months. But residents of a little village named Lamgao in Bicholim district of North Goa have been flooded with concern over the coming monsoon. Their village lies at the foothill of a mine that recently became operational. “Now that mining has restarted in the area, our whole village might get submerged in water during monsoons,” Lamgaon resident Mahesh Hoble, says. Sharing further concerns over displacement, Hoble adds, “Our village falls under the mining lease area which means that at any point, we can be asked to move.” Locals now want mining to end. “Mining indeed provides employment. But at what cost?” Rajita Hoble, another resident asks. 

The Bicholim Mineral Block comprising of Bordem, Lamgao, Mulgao, Mayem and Sirigao villages, is the first auctioned mine to become operational since the 2018 blanket ban on mining by the Supreme Court. The mine, which was previously owned by Dempo Group of Industries, is now owned by Vedanta Sesa Goa. Mining has been one of the biggest environmental concerns in Goa. It has also been one of the biggest drivers of politics in the state. With the return of mining, many in the villages surrounding the mines have become nervous about their future. And the ongoing Lok Sabha elections have brought little hope for change. 

BJP’s candidate from South Goa, Pallavi Dempo
BJP’s candidate from South Goa, Pallavi Dempo
info_icon

The ruling BJP’s candidate from South Goa, Pallavi Dempo, has links to two influential old Goan families with ties to mining. Its North Goa candidate, five-time MP and present Union Minister Shripad Naik, has been a vocal supporter of restarting mining. The Union Minister of State for AYUSH had in 2019 claimed that only the BJP can solve the mining problem in Goa following the Supreme Court canceling 88 mining leases across the state. Both Congress and BJP, in their manifestos, have assured restoring mining but with environmental controls if they come to power. 

“In Goa, people elect candidates but mining lobby selects candidates,” Mayem resident and environmental activist Ramesh Gauns states. In April, the activist wrote to the Director of Mines and Geology, Government of Goa highlighting the potential risks posed by the proposed transportation of ore through public roads, village roads, and district roads in Bicholim. 

Politics of mining

The Portuguese, who ruled Goa for 451 years, realised the importance of the coastal state as a rich source for iron ore and other resources. The first mining concession was granted by the erstwhile Portuguese Regime under its Colonial Laws in 1906. By the time of Goa’s liberation and accession to India in 1961, 791 mining concessions had been granted by the Portuguese regime. After independence, old mining families of Goa that had been granted concession under the Portuguese like the Dempos, Chowgules, Timblos, and Salgaonkars remained powerful, both in business as well as in politics. 

Members of these families have been MPs, MLAs, and ministers in Goa. In fact, Pallavi Dempo, the richest candidate to have contested phase 3 of Lok Sabha 2024 elections on May 7 when both seats in Goa went to polls, was born into the Timblo family (related to the Fomento Group) and is married to the Chairman of the Dempo Group, Shrinivas Dempo. Both families have connections to mining families that date back to the Portuguese and have been major players in the mining industry of Goa.

In the 60s, Sesa Goa, previously called Scambi Economici SA Goa in (1954-1963), also emerged as a big player. It was eventually purchased by Vedanta Resources Plc, a diversified metals and mining group founded by Anil Agarwal which acquired a 51 per cent controlling stake. In 2009, Sesa Goa acquired the Goa-based iron ore mining company – Dempo Mining Corporation for Rs 1,750 crore. In 2015, Sterlite Industries (founded by DP Agarwal and later a subsidiary of Vedanta) and Sesa Goa announced their merger into a single entity, and in the same year, Sesa Sterlite changed its name to Vedanta Limited.

For villagers directly impacted by mining like Hoble and his family, keeping track of the complex politics of mining and its relation to day-to-day governance is not easy and they often find it difficult to fix accountability, especially when governments, irrespective of party, seem to be in cahoots with the mining lobby. Activists like Ramesh Gauns who have devoted their life to fighting big corporations and making local people aware of environmental concerns and health hazards of mining feel that the governments in the past have done very little to educate the masses about the environment, mainly because of the nexus between politics, miming, and big money. 

He points out, as an example, that the Timblos were among the highest contributors towards electoral bonds from Goa, paying close to Rs 13 crore in different tranches from April 2021 to Jan 2022, ahead of Assembly elections in Goa. 

It isn’t just the big lobbies that parties try to woo. In the last two elections, the Goa government has allegedly tried to win the support of truck owner associations by processing the applications for monthly reimbursement to the truck owners, who were left workless due to the stoppage of the mining industry in the state. “It happened in 2013, then again in 2018,” says Mapusa-based environmentalist Claude Alvarez, Director of mining watchdog Goa Foundation, instrumental in getting the 2012 and 2018 bans on mining in Goa.

Why mining was banned

Mining has long been contested in Goa due to its environmental impact in the region. Issues such as deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, and damage to agricultural land have long been raised by environmentalists and local communities. While the government of Goa, as well as the central government of India, have implemented various regulations and guidelines aimed at controlling mining activities and mitigating their environmental impact in Goa since its liberation, enforcement of these regulations has often been lax, leading to continued environmental degradation.

An important turning point came with the Justice M.B. Shah Commission Report in 2012 which highlighted widespread illegal mining activities in several states, including Goa. The report exposed irregularities in mining leases, illegal extraction of ore beyond permissible limits, and violations of environmental regulations.

Advertisement

In light of the findings of the Shah Commission report and mounting pressure from environmental groups, the Supreme Court of India imposed a temporary ban on mining activities in Goa in September 2012. The ban was aimed at conducting a thorough investigation into illegal mining practices and implementing necessary reforms to ensure sustainable mining in the future.

The mining ban in Goa had significant socio-economic repercussions, leading to job losses, revenue decline, and economic distress in the region. Efforts were made by the government and mining stakeholders to lift the ban through legal and administrative channels. However, the ban remained in place for several years due to ongoing legal proceedings and the need for regulatory reforms.

Advertisement

Residents of Lamgaon previously engaged in mining work want mining activity to end
Residents of Lamgaon previously engaged in mining work want mining activity to end Photo: Rakhi Bose/Outlook
info_icon

In 2014, the Supreme Court partially lifted the mining ban, allowing the resumption of mining activities with certain conditions, including strict environmental compliance and regulatory oversight. However, challenges related to environmental clearances, land acquisition, and legal disputes continued to hinder the full-scale revival of the mining industry in Goa.

Even now, the situation vis-a-vis mining in Goa remains complex, with ongoing legal battles, environmental concerns, and efforts towards sustainable mining practices. 

“There is a need for continued dialogue and advocacy between state government, mining companies, environmental activists, and local communities to address effectively the gamut of issues that surround mining in Goa,” says Gauns. But local communities are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the government which they feel is working in tandem with the business community and not for the benefit of the people or the environment. 

Advertisement

Highlighting discrepancies between the proposed transportation plan and the available infrastructure, Gauns points out that while Vedanta Limited claims to have dedicated roads for transportation, the volume of trips proposed far exceeds what these roads can accommodate without encroaching on public thoroughfares. Another important but neglected impact of mining is on the volume and quality of groundwater and other fresh water sources in mining areas. 

“Mining waste and harmful rejects have been flowing into rivers like Mandovi and Zuari, the lifelines of Goa, causing elimination of oceanic fauna. Excessive silting of freshwater bodies and lakes has also impacted groundwater, causing a shortage of drinking water,” he states. “At least 65 lakes and springs in this area have dried up,” Gauns adds. In Mayem, freshwater bodies spread across 2 lakh share metres have silted. A case in point is a reservoir in Mulgao village, known locally as the ‘Comunidade Lake’ which has become covered with greasy scum and eutrophication due to improper waste management and silting caused by nearby mining activity over the years. “This reservoir was previously a source of non-drinking fresh water for nearby villages and farms,” Gauns adds. These water bodies are intrinsic in providing irrigation for the water-intensive Areca nut plantations that dominate the region. 

Advertisement

The job conundrum

Despite such impacts, support for mining continues, much of it due to its ability to generate employment. In 2021, Goa’s Azad Maidan saw huge agitations led by pressure groups like groups like Goa Mining People's Front (GMPF) which mobilised locals dependent on mining for their livelihood to rally in support of mining resumption. 

Alvarez feels that even though mining dictates selection of candidates in Goa and impacts the lives of communities, environmental impact of mining is the last priority on the minds of average Goan voters. The activist points out that the majority of Goa’s population lives in the coastal parts and remains unbothered by mining which remains restricted to just four taluka, two in the south and two in the west, in the Western Ghats region. 

Advertisement

In the coastal parts, mining nevertheless has its own impact. “The explosion in the tourism sector was a direct response to shrinking jobs in mining,” fisherman and union leader Jose Fernandez of the Kharvi Bhavacho Ekvot in Benaulim states. Belonging to the “Ramponkar community”, a distinct group of Hindu and Christian fisher folk in Goa, Fernandez states that the growth in tourism has impacted the indigenous communities and traditional forms of livelihood in Goa.

“People think Goa depends on tourism,” he rues. “During Covid-19 pandemic times, when the flow of tourists had tapered down to zero, Goans survived because we have our traditional sources of livelihood like fishing and cashew cultivation,” he states. In recent years, the mechanisation of fishing boats has led to loss of identity and skill among the Ramponkars and younger generations have been migrating to other jobs. In Bicholim’s Lamgaon, Mahesh Hoble who previously worked in the mines before the 2018 ban, states that even in the mining sector, jobs are being outsourced to cheaper migrant labour. “I have supported mining in the past for employment. But I now feel that the government needs to work harder to provide us with alternate sources of employment,” Hoble states. “Mining needs to end now,” he adds. 

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement