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Mining on the Shifty Sands of Goan Politics

After a decade of uncertainty, mining features less prominently in the electoral rhetoric of Goa’s politicians

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India
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  • After a decade of uncertainty, mining features less prominently in the electoral rhetoric of Goa’s politicians, reflecting perhaps the waning influence of the sector.

  • The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government faces strong anti-incumbency in the February 2022 state elections.

  • The Goa government has repeatedly erred on the mining issue, according to the Supreme Court. Civil society activists say the government’s latest attempt at restarting the mining sector by auctioning old dumps is another mistake.

In the run-up to the 2022 state elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Pramod Sawant-led state government has made a slew of announcements towards resuming iron ore mining in the western Indian coastal state of Goa: a new state-owned corporation, mineral exploration, and its latest, a policy that would facilitate the auction of low-grade iron ore sitting in little hillocks created from unmarketable ore piled over decades.

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The chief minister who hails from the mining belt hoped this would see the state through the next few years.

“Of all the state government’s short-lived plans, this has to be the shortest,” said Claude Alvares of Goa Foundation in a press conference on 31 December 2021, responding to the government’s latest plan. The environmental group has led a decade-long battle against illegal mining that climaxed in the landmark 2014 Supreme Court judgment. The extraction and exports of iron ore, both bane and boon for this small coastal state, had already been stopped in 2012, resumed briefly in 2015, only to be stopped again in 2018.

The environmental activists say that the new policy was “unconstitutional and illegal” and in possible contempt of a high court order which, on 27 November 2021, had stayed dispatch from any dumps.

“The so-called dump mining policy has been announced solely to salvage the reputation of the BJP government which is approaching Assembly elections without any clue on how mining may restart in the state, after almost four years since it was halted by Supreme Court’s orders.”
Claude Alvares of Goa Foundation
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Alvares added that the policy is ill-timed too, since it would lapse as soon as the code of conduct came into force, which it did a week later, on 8 January, when elections for Goa’s 40-member Legislative Assembly were announced. The voting will take place on 14 February this year while the results will be declared on 10 March.

Mining History of Goa

Leading up to the historic 1967 opinion poll that voted for an independent Goa, three of the state’s biggest miners joined hands to produce an ‘anti-merger’ Marathi newspaper. It had seen its share of highs and lows in a six-decade history. The seesaw ride of the last decade, however, has been particularly trying for the industry, Goa’s last three governments, and four chief ministers.

In 2012, the late Manohar Parrikar, playing the anti-corruption crusader, led the BJP to its first majority in Goa. Driven by China’s insatiable appetite, annual exports had grown from about 16 million tonnes in 2000-2001 to 46.85 million tonnes in 2010-11, overwhelming infrastructure, regulatory mechanism, and locals, who were forced to put up with ore laden trucks, including some of their own, roaring past their homes round the clock.

Goa has banked on its natural and logistical advantages to build an iron ore industry that was its economy’s mainstay until it discovered tourism, and more recently, casinos and real estate. The mining lobby has played a significant role in deciding the political fate of Goa, from before its liberation from Portuguese rule and since, in the choice of its first chief minister, its veto to a merger with Maharashtra, in the making and breaking of coalition governments.
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What Had Parrikar Promised?

Parrikar had promised to regulate the sector and reduce petrol prices. As opposition leader and chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Goa’s Legislative Assembly, he had accused the then Congress government of turning a blind eye and being complicit in these excesses. His report held the then chief minister Digambar Kamat, who was also the minister of mines, of being directly guilty in some instances.

A decade later, campaigning for his seventh consecutive term as Margao MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly), Kamat waives his vindication – a letter from the state’s mines and geology department he’s got through RTI (Right to Information Act) that says, “There is no PAC report, as the draft report was not adopted by the committee and hence was not presented to the House.” The document which had prompted the department to file police complaints, resulting in charges framed against the former chief minister, doesn’t officially exist.

“This is a fraud on the legislature, a fraud on the people of Goa,” Kamat told Mongabay-India.

Why Doesn't the Report Exist?

The reason this report, drafted after 27 meetings of seven legislators from across parties, “does not exist” is because the then Congress speaker, Pratap Singh Rane (also indicted in this draft report) would not allow it to be tabled on grounds that four of the members had not signed on it. Media reports from that time claim Rane’s successor, BJP leader Rajendra Arlekar (now governor of Himachal Pradesh) had accepted and forwarded this report to the government, which at the time was led by Parrikar.

“I have no idea about this (Arlekar accepting the report). That the PAC (report) did not exist was what the Legislature Secretariat told us in response to the former CM Kamat’s RTI request.”
Vivek H P, the IAS officer who heads the state’s Directorate of Mines and Geology department.
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The Politics of Mining

Five-time CM and 11-time legislator from Poriem, Pratap Singh Rane is being persuaded to bring an end to his 50-year career and ceding control of his constituency by his son Viswajit Rane, Valpoi legislator and minister in the BJP government. Father and son were both in Congress when Goa police’s special investigation team decided to investigate a bribery allegation from a miner in 2014. The case was closed for lack of evidence three years later. By then, junior Rane had dumped the Congress and returned after a bypoll as Parrikar’s health minister. Over the next two years, the BJP, which had only won 13 of 40 assembly seats, would welcome 12 Congress legislators into the party.

Poriem and Valpoi are part of the western stretch that starts from the Bicholim in the north, runs through Mayem, CM Pramod Sawant’s constituency Sanqulim, Sanguem, Curchorem, Sanvordem and then to Cancona, rural constituencies whose significant population, including its politicians, are dependent on iron ore mining. As port towns, Vasco and Mormugao would also count. However, exempting Ranes, who are influential landlords of their areas, neither 2012 nor 2017 suggests that mining impacted individual election outcomes here and 2022 may be no different.

(This article was originally published on the Mongabay-India. It has been republished here with permission.)

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Topics:  BJP   Goa Elections   Goa Mining 

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