Elections

In Goa, the mining ban weighs heavily on elections

Nandana James Goa | Updated on April 21, 2019 Published on April 19, 2019

Upwards of 12,000 trucks have been affected by the mining ban, besides 150 barges and ancillary units. (file photo) - Atish Pomburfekar

 

The rows of weather-beaten trucks standing dormant by the lanes of Goa's mining areas are grim reminders of the people’s sole livelihood option that has also withered and shrivelled just as much. In Goa, the ban on mining is a long-festering wound, with dependent industries like transportation and logistics also having shuddered to a halt. A simmering anger is palpable among the many who have been denuded of their jobs, with this likely to cast a pallor over the prospects of political parties in the impending elections.

“This election, the anger of the mining community will decide the fate of the politicians,” Puti Gaonkar, President of the Goa Mining People’s Front (GMPF), an umbrella body of mining dependents, tells BusinessLine. “The mining belts were all in BJP-oriented areas. But this time, because of this issue (the ban), they will definitely show their anger,” he says.

“The government is not serious about resuming mining activities in Goa because they want to give these mines to some big giants like Jindal and Adani,” Gaonkar claims.

In February 2018, a Supreme Court order cancelled 88 iron ore mining leases in Goa owing to a technical review of the government’s renewal of leases. Mining in the state has been privy to similar bans and legal entanglements ever since 2012. In 2012, the Supreme Court had imposed a ban on iron ore mining which was lifted partially in April 2014. The mining cap limit was lowered post this, which thwarted the state from exploring its full potential in mining.

The Congress will work on bringing about sustainable mining, Girish Chodankar, the Congress candidate for the North Goa Lok Sabha seat, tells BusinessLine. He holds the BJP responsible for the closure of mines, whilst also alluding to the BJP wanting to auction it to Adani. Meanwhile, Narendra Sawaikar, the sitting MP from South Goa, who is contesting again, tells BusinessLine that he is confident that people from the mining belts will stand by the BJP this time and that people are appreciating the steps they have taken in the past one year since the ban. “It is ultimately, I would say, the bad governance of the Congress party, which is also responsible for the kind of mining issue that has been created in the state,” he says, adding that the people are sure that only the BJP can find a solution to this.

Gaonkar says that there are around three lakh people in Goa who are dependent on mining. Though GMPF hasn’t taken any stand as an organisation, Gaonkar says that this vote will be against the “non-functioning of the government and the non-performance of the existing MPs.”

The mining dependent people living in villages in North and South Goa echo similar sentiments. Throbbing with the hum of insects, these mining belts are far-flung from the boisterous city side of Goa.

Prakash Gawade, 44, who lives in the Dharbandora village of South Goa, has been rendered jobless post the ban, with his two trucks merely collecting dust outside his house. His mother, wife and two kids used to rely solely on his revenue from mining for filling their stomachs, he says. He vehemently says no when asked if he will vote for BJP this time, though he points out how he likes the party at the centre, particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies. He says that Narendra Sawaikar, the sitting MP from South Goa, hasn’t raised the issue in the parliament.

He recounts how Goa’s former Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar had initially shut mining in the state, and how the matter later went to the Supreme Court. “I think 75 per cent of people here would vote for the Congress because people are angry,” he says.

Meanwhile, Kashinath Satyawan Naik, 31, who also owns trucks, says sullenly that he is planning to opt for NOTA, as he has no faith left in any party whatsoever, though five years ago he had voted for the BJP.

Truck owners nearby affirm the same. “In five years, the BJP has done nothing. BJP promised to start mining and based on that promise we voted for them, but they did nothing. What have they done to start mining in these 5 years?” asks Samir Fatrekar, 41. He says he won’t believe in the tall promises of any party anymore. He has lost faith in both the Congress and the BJP. These parties need to tell us how exactly they plan on resuming mining, he says. When asked what he does now, Samir says with a wry laugh that he has pretty much nothing to do now. “I have a garage, I get small works, but nothing comes out of it. I have to pay the workers too. I have to pay the workers Rs 10,000-12,000, but we don’t have enough work for that.”

“If I want to start a new business, I can't because I have already taken loans (to buy trucks) and gone bankrupt. And the banks are not willing to give us loans,” says Chandradip Prakash Chari, 33, whose primary business of running trucks has fizzled out.

The woes of mining dependent people in North Goa are just as pronounced. BusinessLine spoke to some in the Honda village there.

“Goa is nothing without mining," Prabha Nair, 40, says grimly. Her husband, Anil Kumar Nair, 48, who used to work on the pipelines in the mines has been out of a job since 2012, when the ban was first imposed. He now resorts to odd jobs here and there to make ends meet. He finally managed to clinch a contract job just a week ago, but even that wouldn’t last long, he says glumly. Anil says there are people who cannot even afford to have meals.

They had moved to Goa from Kerala over 20 years ago, and despite life coming to a standstill here after the ban, they cannot afford to go back due to their children’s education.

He gestures to the three trucks standing outside their home. It belongs to their landlord, who lives in the adjoining house. “Just one week after they bought the last truck, the ban came into being. It hasn’t budged from there ever since,” he says. Prabha adds that the mining belts in Goa are privy to a lot of such trucks standing idle.

They are angry at the BJP for not having done anything to resume mining in the past five years. Anil also recounts how Manohar Parrikar’s government had first stopped mining, and how they were more keen on developing industrial estates and tourism. A 42-year-old truck owner (who does not wish to be named), who lives nearby, also remembers how Parrikar had directly said he would stop mining in Goa, adding wryly about the video he has of that. He laments how the truck he bought for around Rs 23 lakh is just fetching Rs 6-7 lakhs now.

“The trucks were used for mining. Now that it has stopped, what can be done now? Where will the money come from? We will have to search for something,” he signs off.

For the latest on elections, click: Elections 2019

Published on April 19, 2019

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