By Nandkumar M Kamat
GOA is one of the richest metallogenic province on earth offering sustainable opportunities for centuries to tap the diverse mineral wealth. At least 70 out of 92 natural elements of the periodic table are found in Goa.
It was not merely the attraction of horses or spices which had attracted several dynasties of Deccan to Goa. The mundaris had introduced iron age in Goa. Artisanal gold production from sweet river sands, Western Ghats stream sediments and auriferous rocks was a common practice. The metal bioaccumulation and metal tolerance properties of vegetation here has been grossly underestimated and overlooked.
To my utter surprise, within my own university campus covered by a thick lateritic profile, a small quantity of dead leaves and twigs of Bauhinia purpurea (Rakta kanchan) and Ficus benghalensis (the sacred banyan tree) subjected to destructive treatment showed measurable presence of Gold containing silica and pure biogenic Gold particles. This is a message for state and central governments, which have gone in a blind direction to pamper the whole business of production and export of iron ore, manganese, ferro manganese and bauxite and have been wasting their efforts for past 50 years on mining without a multi-elemental geochemical database and atlas on cadastral scale. There is enough gold containing material, especially auriferous quartz in alluvial sands in freshwater zones of our rivers to wipe out the full debt of state government within a single year. But decision making is not always based on scientific, geochemical and micro level mineralogical knowledge.
In this area, Goa is not Canada, Australia, USA or republic of South Africa. These countries have become great because of knowledge-based mining. They look at every new idea with respect it deserves. Their prospecting and valuation of mineral resources is different. Goa would need centuries to build such enlightened leadership. On four occasions (2008-11), the previous government had officially invited me for discussion on new budget proposals. On each occasion, I had advocated and had given written justification to form a Goa mineral and metal trading corporation (GMMTC) consistent with similar bodies in six other states. I had told the government that wealth created through mining efforts needs to benefit the public.
On one occasion, when pressed on this matter repeatedly, the former Chief Minister, Mr Digambar Kamat frankly told me that even though he was in favour of such a body there were too many ambitious people in his party who would rush to claim its’ control and the original objectives may not be met. When the Karnataka government had imposed ban on transport of alluvial sand from Kali river used in Goa for constructions, again I had advised the Mr Kamat that the entire trade in mining and marketing of river sand could be sustainably handled by Goa handicrafts and rural small industries development corporation which sells steel and cement as part of its’ marketing business.
Why then our politicians are not interested in upholding public interests? There are definite and strong compulsions which politicians from all four major political parties - Congress, BJP, MGP and NCP face on the matter of sustainable mining through public enterprise. Sooner or later the present BJP-led government would be compelled to visit this issue if the colossal revenue leakage has to be plugged. It is also time to look at the ill understood and scattered inventories of non ferrous metals like rare earth elements, gold, platinum, vanadium, niobium, titanium and zirconium. These metals are literally going down the drain as huge number of laterite quarries are permitted and alluvial sand mining have no controls. The Japanese would be too willing to transfer technologies for exploitation of rare earth elements from laterite. They are already active in Odisha. If established, GMMTC could promote micro scale artisanal alluvial gold mining with clusters of small local village communities formed on cooperative basis. We have detected substantial auriferous (gold containing) material in river sands of Terekhol, Colvale, Mandovi, Talpona and Galijbaga. GMMTC could purchase this material for trading. All the old mining reject dumps in North Goa have automatically become excellent sources of gold containing material since the lighter elements have been leached out in rains. Simple techniques can separate the gold containing fraction from ore dumps. Sustainable mining demands that the principles of equity and equality are respected. Wealth without equity fuels greed.
For past few months people were told by anti-mining activists that more than 20-25 thousand iron ore transporting trucks were operational in mining belt. They even quoted RTO registration statistics. The government is interested in providing an economic package to the truckers for cushioning the economic shock. However, after the deadline of electronic registration to avail the package was over the figure has not still crossed 7000 trucks. So where are the missing trucks? Or shall we believe that all the non registered trucks were involved in transport of ore from illegal mining operations? People of Goa, in more than 60 mining affected villages had provided ecological and environmental subsidies for 60 years. What the central government did for them? The third report of Shah Commission due in December should also focus on this anomaly.
The Geological Survey of India (GSI), The Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM), the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) continued to work in isolation, produced mismatching reports and took the people of Goa and the country for a ride by not working together to insist on and fix the sustainable limits of iron ore exploitation from Goa. Government of India did not have the word “sustainable” in its’ dictionary when Goa was liberated. States can exist and work only within their carrying capacities and within the economies of scale which are affordable. Mining 50 or 60 million tonnes of iron ore per year is simply unsustainable operation in a small state. The liberation of Goa had imposed a destructive model of natural and mineral resource exploitation on this territory. This model officially continued till May 1987. After Goa became a state it was free for all situation for greedy players who are now responsible for the present ecological, economic and social mess. (to be concluded).