Mining in Rivona: lifeline of villagers

MARGAO: Mining is considered as the economical spine of Goa, as Goa exports over sixty per cent of the country’s total iron-ore, dug out from roughly 350-odd iron ore mining leases.

This scenario has compelled and lured many in Goa and the neighboring states to jump into the mining business and activities big time - right from owning mines to providing transportation of ore, to supplying related machinery. The booming and profit-assured mining activities also encouraged innumerable locals to commence mine-related small businesses like setting up vehicle garages, diesel pumps, puncture repair stalls, eateries, tea stalls, kiosks selling cigarettes, pan, gutka, etc, along the various routes in almost all the four talukas of Bicholim (north Goa), Salcete, Quepem and Sanguem.
The village of Rivona in Sanguem taluka is no exception to this scenario. The village houses 6 mines, Megna Minerals, Vedanta group, SMI, (Salgaonkars), Fomento Mines, Timblo Private Ltd and Palandikar Mines. Eighty per cent of the villagers here are into the truck business of ferrying the ore from Rivona to Sanvordem jetty - a distance of around 25 to 28 kilometers. This activity enables them to earn their livelihood and also feed their families.
The area of Tilamol is witness to a bee-line of trucks, driving bumper to bumper, right  up to the Rivona panchayat. Mining activities here go on uninterrupted as it supports a large number of locals and their families and at the same time also keeps the palms of several government officials, including police and traffic police working in these mining areas, well greased.
The sarpanch of Rivona, Ms Geetanaji G Naik said, “There are around 450 trucks owned by the locals of Rivona, plying from different mines. If mining is stopped, these truckers, who have taken loans from banks, would be the worst sufferers. A stop to mining here would lead to large number of suicides.” She added that such a situation should not come and keeping this in mind, the panchayat members pleaded with the concerned authorities to come to the rescue these locals.
The sarpanch explained why the panchayat published an advertisement on the local newspapers, with folded hands, calling on the Chief Minister, Mr Digambar Kamat to speak to the Shah Commission and present their side of the mining issue. She said the CM was categorical on the issue and said that he could not do anything in the said issue. She said that this compelled them to openly pray to reduce the buffer zone from 10 kms to 1 km. They also demanded that the government revoke an earlier circular, dated September 27, 2011, which placed a ban on lifting mining rejects.
The sarpanch further said that she was not aware of why the problem started and why the Center suddenly cracked down on mining. She said she was not aware if any illegal mining was going on in Rivona village as it is the duty of the government to check the documents and verify this aspect. She said however that mining in these areas has been going on for decades and the same has generated jobs and business opportunities for the locals. She also said that the panchayat has no say in the mining industry. She however said that she is opposed to illegal mining.
Her husband, a panch member added, “The closure of a few mines has affected the transportation of ore in the areas of Rivona. Truckers fear their business will be lost.” He added that these fears forced them to come onto the streets to try and find a solution to the conflict between the Rivona truck owners and the Margao truck owners. He said the intervention of the south Goa Collector has ironed out the differences.
A panch said that the current crisis stems largely from the allegation that Goan miners are illegally exporting iron ore. He said what is being done in reality is that decades old mining dumps are being moved since there arose a demand for these from China. He informed that these dumps are low-grade by-product of the iron ore mining process. “This activity raised many an eyebrows and perhaps drew the attention of environmentalists and activists who complained to the concerned authorities.”
Mr Gurudas Naik said that he is not opposing mining, however, he pointed that the trucks move so fast that it gives an impression of a race. “Greed-driven reckless driving has caused a lot of accident and deaths. Though the mining firms have supported the accident victims’ families financially, only the victim family knows and feels the loss and pain. The government should build roads exclusively for mining transport as that would ensure the safety of villagers and locals.” He pointed that out of the nine elected representatives of the Rivona panchayat, five to six are involved in the truck business and hence their opposition to ban mining is obvious.
Those opposed to mining claimed that mining in the area has led to the degradation of the environment. The mining rejects, pumped out from the muddy water from the pits during mining operations, have sunk into the ground, below the water table and hence caused damage to the same they said. They also pointed that the environment is unlivable due to dust pollution and mining dust entering their homes and food, even with the doors and windows closed.