“The children of mine owners will live abroad and live a luxurious life. We are here, why should we suffer?” Ravindra Velip, a 32-year-old former truck owner turned environmental activist from the Velip Adivasi community, told me. “Why do we need the mining companies?” Velip has gone through various avatars in the past ten years, parallel to the dramatic transformations and unravelling that iron ore mining brought to eastern Goa. While mining companies walked away from the region with barely any cost, locals, particularly former truckers have been left stranded with a polluted environment and insurmountable amounts of debt.
Velip’s parents were farmers and depended on seasonal agriculture and forest land for their livelihood. In 2009, during the peak growth of Goa’s mining industry, Velip’s uncle took multiple loans and invested in trucks. Velip, then working in a small software firm in Margao, followed suit. In December 2010, he took a loan of ten lakhs from the Bank of India and bought a truck. Between 2007 and 2012, there were four mines active in the area. “Each mine employed 300 trucks and made 1,200 trips up and down per day,” he said. “Each truck carried 15 or 16 ton of ore from the pit to the stockyard to the jetty.”
In 2012, based on the recommendations of a commission headed by MB Shah, a former judge, the Supreme Court abruptly halted all iron ore mining in the state. “When I read the judgement, I felt very guilty, they had no permission to mine from 2007,” Velip told me, referring to many mines that had continued to operate without a lease. “That was when my eyes opened. All of us in the village came together and discussed this. Our land and water were getting completely destroyed by illegal mining.” Subsequently in April 2014, the ban was partially lifted. Velip has since become one of the most prominent activists against illegal mining in the state, for which he has faced the government’s wrath, including illegal detention and police brutality.
By 2015, Velip was able to repay the loans he took to buy his truck. He now leads a small community-owned cooperative who want mining to be locally controlled. In 2018, the Supreme Court cancelled the leases of all mining companies in the state, again bringing the industry to a complete standstill. No active mining legally takes place anywhere in Goa, though companies are allowed to truck away ore that was already extracted before the ban, and there are sporadic reports of illegal mining in the state.
Others have not been as lucky as Velip. “In 2016, I took a loan of four lakh ninety thousand rupees from Pirna Urban Cooperative Credit Society,” a 44-year-old former trucker from north Goa’s Assonora village, who wished to remain anonymous, told me. On 28 October 2017, he issued a cheque of three lakh to pay the cooperative. But the cheque bounced, stating “exceeds arrangement.” He had told me he had received a legal notice and later was charged with Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act of 1881, which penalises a defaulter for bounced cheques. At Bicholim, the nearest town to Assonora, advocates and bank employees told me that there was a steep rise in the number of Section 138 cases, indicating widespread financial turmoil as a result of the abrupt end of mining, and the lack of financial support from the government.