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More agitations to follow, warn mining dependents

PANAJI/VASCO: Upset at being beaten by the police during their first public demonstration, the mining dependents on Monday promised more agitations in the days to come to protest against the industry closure.

Dependents comprising of scores of people employed in the transport of iron ore came together for a massive agitation that although ended in chaos and lathi charge, appears to have roused belligerence.

President of North Goa Truckers Association Neelkant Gawas said, “More agitations will be carried out by our members until mining restarts in Goa.” He said that all dependents are united in the protest against the industry closure which has affected the livelihood of lakhs of locals. He said that the government is facing paralysis in decision-making and expressed doubts on whether the steps proposed by ministers would help restart mining soon.

Gawas also lashed out at the government for the unwarranted lathi charge that injured several agitators. “We were holding a peaceful agitation and did not try to fight. We also allowed the traffic to flow on the Mandovi bridges. But just as we stepped inside for talk the lathi charge was ordered,” he said.

Mining dependents have been called for a meeting with Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday. However, Gawas expressed his doubts about the outcome of the meeting. “Gadkari is not concerned with mining. We need to conduct a meeting with the Mining Minister,” he said.

The huge agitation was attended by owners of trucks, barges and machinery as well as people employed by them as helpers, drivers, crew, operators etc.
President of Goa Barge Owners Association (GBOA) Raymond De Sa said that the Association is demanding an inquiry into the reason for the lathi charge. He added that the main demand of the GBOA is restart of mining and takeover of barge loans by the government. “If the government cannot take over our loans, we demand freeze on them until mining restarts,” he said.
De Sa, meanwhile, said that the GBOA has withdrawn its planned blockade of the Mandovi river navigational channel. “Giving due respect to the state government’s call/appeal, the barge owners have decided not to block the Mandovi river navigational channel which was planned by the GBOA on Monday,” said De Sa. He further said, “The state government has supported the barge owners and its dependents a lot in the past and considering the request of the state government, the barge owners decided to withdraw their decision.”
Several agitators said that they were shocked at being beaten by the police, as the attack took them by surprise. However, some among the agitators took a conciliatory stance.
Secretary of GBOA Sanjeev Naik said, “The government is also under a lot of pressure to reopen mining. We are sure that as elected representatives they will have our best interest at heart in the future action plan.”

Mining dependents in Goa comprise of workers in the mining lease areas, employees of mining companies, locals involved in ferrying iron ore and operators of mining machinery. The transport segment is the largest slice of the mining dependents accounting for over 30,000 people.

Truck owners have said that they spent Rs 1.8 lakh to Rs 2 lakh for repairs and maintenance of trucks after mining reopened in 2015 and need to recover the investment. They said that after weathering the first closure in 2012-2015, they cannot survive another shutdown now.

Goa’s mining operations have been shut down on March 16 after a Supreme Court order cancelled renewal of 88 mining leases.

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