“Who is Ali Baba?”: an Excerpt from “Eat Dust: Mining and Greed in Goa”

18 July 2016
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Eat Dust: Mining and Greed in Goa is an account of the former journalist and theatre personality Hartman de Souza’s travels around Goa, documenting mining operations in the state. De Souza, who hails from Goa, conceived of the idea for the book when he saw a hill that he had once struggled to climb almost disappear due to mining. For several decades, mining in Goa has been a controversial issue. In March 2012, a judicial commission headed by Justice MB Shah, submitted a reported on mining operations in the state. The commission said in its report that companies in Goa were operating through “all modes of illegal mining,” by means such as mining without licenses and requisite approvals, forging permits, tampering with land records, and in direct contravention of the applicable state and central laws. The report also noted that mining activities had caused unchecked environmental damage, such as air and water pollution, and ruin of ecological systems in the area. In September 2012, based on a petition filed by the lawyer Prashant Bhushan after the Shah-commission report, the Goa government banned all mining activities in the state—an act the Supreme Court echoed the following month. However, in April 2014, the apex court revoked its earlier order, and lifted the ban.

In the book, De Souza writes about various aspects of the mining trade: the generations of mining families that have enabled companies to come in and secure land; the politicians who have cultivated relationships with these families and with bureaucrats; the local residents and activists that are resisting the operations; and his personal memories of the beauty and ecological diversity of the state, now transformed due to the flourishing trades of tourism and mining. In the following excerpt, he recounts how politicians such as Vishwajit Pratapsingh Rane, the minister of health in the state from 2007 to 2012, and local businessmen such as Joaquim Alemao, lobbied with the central government, bureaucrats and local residents in Goa to ensure that mining continued in the state through what he calls the “Age of Greed”—the years 2005–2012.

On 3 March 2010, the same day that a few thousand grossly overloaded trucks hauled out ore to Sanvordem and left Quepem and Sanguem talukas in ruins, Vishwajit held a press briefing. Goa’s minister of health was obviously rankled by a letter from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi, putting a moratorium on all new mining clearances. The decision had been taken after Jairam Ramesh, union minister of state, environment and forests, inaugurated a conference aimed at saving the Western Ghats from mining operations as well as ecologically damaging industries.

This was what Vishwajit said: “Legal mining is something the chief minister wants to allow in the state, and in my constituency, there are certain villages where we want mining to happen. If the people in those areas want mining to happen, then it should be allowed ...”

As if the message was not clear enough, he stressed: “Mining activities with legal permissions, valid licences and clearance documents from the authorities should be allowed. I think the union minister has unilaterally put everything on hold: the chief minister’s letter had categorically stated that the mining policy was in progress, and it’s a question of another fifteen days, so let the legal process move on.”

Hartman De Souza has a background in theatre, education and journalism. He has been associated with several theatre groups in the country and was, till September 2015, the artistic director of the Space Theatre Ensemble, Goa.

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