Beware: Black Gold will turn their future black

An account of the impact of iron ore mining on the Tribal Communities in Goa by Mihir Bhonsle of NCAS, Pune.

We all must have visited Goa!The Goa Tourism Website says 'Goa: Mind, Body and Soul, A perfect Tourist Destination.' Any reference to this land immediately brings to our minds the exotic beaches, rich cuisines, hospitable locals and more of a place where one can hang out. Not, very far from my own state Maharshtra, I have always wanted to be there to experience a great weekend. But, till very recently I did not know that there is another face to this land of beauty, which tends to get lost in the beechy landscapes. Contradictions have become starker, motivating the tribal communities to organize themselves and resist the exploitation of their livelihood sources.

Exploitation of tribes in Goa, have been prevalent even before the Portuguese Colonial rule, but their condition has since then worsened. The Portuguese state, which till the early 1900s had explored that the land which they had colonized, was rich in Iron ore. The tribes like Gawdas (one of the earliest settlers) who were already being deprived of their lands after the intrusion of the Bhats and the Desai's (upper castes), were further pushed to the margin during the Portuguese rule. Mining leases were granted to local businessmen to start extracting iron ore, especially in the Sanguem, Quepem, Bicholim, Sattari, Bardez and Pernem talukas. These regions were mainly inhabited by the tribes. The mining activity cost dearly to the tribes residing in this area. After, the exploitation of the tribes continued after the liberation of Goa in 1961.

Till, 2001 i.e. after 40 long years of being Indians, the Government did not grant Scheduled tribe status to the Tribes namely Gawda, Kunbi, Velip and Dhangars. Gawda, Kunbi and Velip got Scheduled Tribe status, but Dhangar tribe are yet to be included in the Scheduled Tribes. The struggle of the tribes for getting SC status, which is on, since the liberation Goa continues till today. But, little did they know that in the years to come they would have to fight for their right to livelihood. The most vulnerable sections of the mining activity are the tribal communities as most of the mining leases granted by the state are in the forest cover region, where tribes have resided for several thousand years. But, due to rampant mining activity, the livelihood of the tribal communities has got a severe blow.

"The state government has always used the Sakharecha Sura (Sugar Coated Dagger) to stab us"; remarked Durgadas Gaonkar, the President of GAKUVED (Gawda Kunbi Velip and Dhangar Federation). GAKUVED has been organizing the tribes for demanding reservation since 1997. He was speaking at a meeting which was organized by the people of Colamb (Sanguem taluka) to discuss the impact of the mining activity in the vicinity of Colamb village. The villagers of Colamb have always resisted the mining activity, which is in operation in their vicinity. Fomentos group of mining has been extracting iron ore in the nearby areas of the village, which are classified as forest land by the State Government. Fomentos is operating the mine on behalf of Hiralal Khodidas and Company, the later being granted a lease since the colonial times and which has continued in Independent India. Saptu a villager from Colamb complaining about the mine said, 'The mud dug out by the excavation process falls in our farm-lands, spoiling our yield".

Villagers have always been vocal of their problems faced due to the mining activity. Not only the silt, but mining has caused the depletion of the surrounding natural resources like water, the water table for land has been reduced substantially, the water bodies have been polluted by the mining silt, which makes it unfit for palatable purposes. Houses falling in the area have developed cracks due to the explosives used for mining. The mining company has converted forest areas into rice plantations and has used it for dumping wastes. Expansion of mining activity into newer areas has caused large scale displacement of local people. Overall, the mining has led to a systemic degradation of the livelihood sources of the tribal communities mainly that of the Gawdas and has also led to the destruction of the surrounding environment. The compensation, the company is paying to the villagers comes to around Rs. 400 per person a month. The compensation offered does not hold any value to the tribals residing in the areas, as the mining activity is threatening their source of livelihood.

As a villager rightly pointed out, "Iron ore is black gold." So, the vested interests are trying to plunder it, at the cost of the livelihood of the people.

The State Government is not heeding to the demand of the tribal communities. Rama Velip, a villager of Colamb who has been vocal of the situation of the villagers of Colamb, displayed a map to me, which identified the active iron ore mining leases. The number of squares rounded-up in the map was shocking. Starting from the Southern part of Goa, extending up to the North –eastern part, the whole of this belt was marked as a mining belt i.e. active leases have been granted for mining of iron ore. These leases have been retained after the liberation of Goa and the formation of the independent Goa state. Government of India enacted a law known as the Goa Daman and Diu mining Concessions (Abolition and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act, 1957. By the virtue of this law, the mining leases granted by the Portuguese colonial state were brought under the purview of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957. That means that the mining leases, which were granted in the colonial rule were refreshed. Also, Mining is one of the major contributors to the State's revenue and hence whichever party comes to power, it is reluctant to curb the massive exploitation of tribals and the natural resources.
Goa has always been promoted as a Tourist Destination, which has hidden the larger questions, which the state faces. We have always been shown the glamorous side of the land, which is no doubt worthy of notice, but realities in which the local people live are very different from the merry-land we aspire to visit. The livelihood of the tribal communities is being plundered, pushing them to the brims in the so called developed state. This small state whose geographical limits do not extend to a few hundred kilometers has as of today around 1,600 active mining leases, that talks about the massive kind of exploitation which the people of the state have to go through. The tribals are fast grappling to the situation and are realizing the violation of their right to livelihood, protected by the law of the land. So, next time any of you visit Goa, do bother to turn to the Southern part of Goa and see experience the hospitality of struggling tribals.