Sonshi is turning out to be a grimmer story: While the data provided by the ten mining companies operating around it claims the air quality was much better as the pollution level stood at within 20-30 microgram per cubic metre (mpcm), the independent data of the Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) has revealed that ambient air quality, the respirable particulate matter (RPM or PM10), which directly affects breathing, has gone up seven to eight times of the national ambiance air quality standard of 100 mpcm. There are allegations that the instruments for checking pollution levels installed by the mining companies at Sonshi were not of standard quality and fitted with regulators which could help in manipulation of data. The mining around Sonshi was suspended on April 28 after people staged protests over pollution. While nine of the ten companies stopped mining activities following government orders, one did not. Will the state authorities act against the errant mining company for contravening the provisions of law?
The government had given consent to 13 companies to carry out mining activities and they were directed to install ambient air quality monitoring stations to measure real-time and peak concentration levels of dangerous pollutants in air. The data released by the companies states that six to seven air quality monitoring stations installed by them recorded air quality to be safer. This data has been disputed by the ground-level inspectors of the GSPCB who found out that the data of the mining companies was manipulated so as to carry out the activities illegally and hoodwink the authorities. Since the GSPCB officials have found out that air pollutants have increased to extremely high levels exceeding the permissible level recorded at 14 air quality monitoring stations it should be the endeavour of the pollution board and the government to ensure that mining was not allowed in the area unless all the set parameters in air pollution control were met by the companies.
The pollution board, which has to decide on the matter of issuing consent to operate mining at its meeting on Friday, will have to take all parameters into consideration including the findings of its own officials and analyse the same before coming to a conclusion. The board would have to apply the same yardstick to the mining companies in and around Sonshi by also seeking a bank guarantee of Rs 50 lakh before resuming mining which has been obtained from the mining firms operating from elsewhere in the state if the companies in Sonshi were eligible for issue of consent to operate. Given the fact that human safety and lives were at stake it should be the endeavour of authorities that the mining companies take measures to not only reduce pollution but also to enforce safety measures, especially in the vicinity of residential areas. Every mining company should follow the laws and comply with the government directions to reduce pollution. As the law is applicable to all, it is the duty of the pollution board and government to take appropriate action against companies which did not.
Mining was considered as a goose that laid golden eggs and has been a main contributor to the state economy for decades and many a miner apparently thought that they could get away with the illegalities but the state’s own suspension followed by the Supreme Court order to curb illegalities resulted in mining coming to a halt. Though the Supreme Court ordered resumption of the mining activities in 2015 it has put severe restrictions, including curtailing the quantity of ore extraction. Though the mining scenario changed after the suspension and subsequent resumption some vested interests appear to go back to their old ways and make most of the opportunity they got after the SC relented. These players have to keep in mind that not only the apex court is monitoring the sector but there is also enhanced awareness among the people of the ground-level situation and the laws. The rising awareness leaves a large scope for people and civil society groups to monitor the situation and knock the doors of the apex court to get justice for the mining affected people. In view of this the mining companies should be extra careful while carrying out activities and ensure that they strictly adhere to the laws, especially those relating to pollution and transportation. Going by the rules and adhering to norms for sustainable mining would be in the interest of the mining companies, their workers, people as well as state. Violations of the set norms could once again bring mining to a halt; so the mining companies need to tread cautiously.