MAC: Mines and Communities

Goan farmers fear environmental disaster, courtesy Vedanta

Published by MAC on 2012-05-22
Source: TargetGoa (2012-05-15)

London-listed Vedanta Resources' iron ore subsidiary, Sesa Goa, is the biggest mining company in India's internationally-renowned "holiday state".

Most tourists are blissfully unaware of the company's impacts.

But, for many Goan farmers, the massive overburden dumps created by Sesa Goa aren't just eyesores. They form precarious mountains of potentially toxic mud which bleed onto crops, smother vegetation, and contaminate water sources.

While the Goan government seems powerless to prevent this, Sesa Goa continues expanding, creating more dumps and greater risks of collapse.

According to Bevinda Collaco (see article below) some residents near Sesa Goa's Advai mine believe the company is intentionally ruining their land in this fashion, to give a pretext for further dumping.  

Less than a year ago, in July 2011, heavy rains swept away parts of a vast earthen wall containing discarded overburden, at Sesa Goa's operations in Mulgao, close to Advai.

The wastes then poured onto fields, lakes, and roads, damaging rice paddies and some thirty horticulture plantations. See:  Vedanta mine disaster in Goa is greeted by corporate lies and civil outrage

Is this what will befall the inhabitants of Advai when this year's monsoon strike?

Hopeless farmers believe Sesa Goa is to be more feared than terrorists

By Bevinda Collaco

TargetGoa

15 May 2012

No one is waiting with more anticipation for the monsoons than the people living around the giant Sesa Goa mining dump at Advai Nullah [stream] in Sattari.

Monster Dump 1.7 km long and 90 mts high
Monster Dump 1.7 km long and 90 mts high.
Source: Bevinda Collaco, Target Goa

There are those who live in the direct path of the muddy torrents that will stream down this giant dump bringing silt and floods with it. They are already calculating how much compensation they will demand - and get - from Sesa Goa.

Affected farmers say Sesa Goa should be ecstatic about the devastation the dump will cause once it collapses, because the ruined land can be used for further dumps.

The farmers who have been running from pillar to post being ignored by government agencies and civil society of Goa, are now waiting and watching with sardonic humour for the silt from the giant dump to rush into the Mhadei river and then into the Mandovi.

It is not a small amount of silt. Civil society will then have to sit up and take notice that damage to the pristine forest areas of the hinterland will have a domino effect on the entire state.

Monster dump blocks Advai Nullah

The Sesa Goa dump is the largest OB (Over Burden) Waste dump in Goa at Advai, in Sattari taluka. The dump is actually an almost 90-metre high hill which is 1.7 km long.

This dump has blocked the natural stream or Advoi nullah which used to flow perennially and water the fields and orchards in the area. Now it flows during the monsoons thick with mining reject. It dries up completely in February.

The dump consists of clay soil on which nothing grows except acacia which sucks up all the water in the area and destroys other trees in the vicinity.

This, claims the troubled farmers, is also the game plan of the mining company, since once water in the area is depleted, the forest cover dwindles.

On the way to the Sesa Goa dump one sees the Chowgule dump partially covered by Acacia plants. An entire section of the Chowgule dump collapsed on itself.

When earth is dug up for mining, one part contains mineral ore while six parts contain mud which has little or no value. That mud has to be dumped somewhere. It cannot be dumped in the mining lease area, since the area has to be exploited to the last centimetre, so the mining company looks for land to dump the OB Waste.

Sesa Goa's Sonshi mine, which is 8 kilometers away from the Advai Nullah signed an agreement with the Revenue Secretary, Government of Goa to dump its O B waste in government land, under survey number 35.

The government land was leased to Sesa Goa for a princely sum of Rs 10,000 to Rs 12000 [around US$600] say the farmers. The agreement expired in October 2011 and no one knows whether the contract has been renewed.

Survey No 35 was not enough for Sesa Goa, they extended their dump to survey numbers 32, 34, 35, 36/1, 36/2and 38 which are government properties encroached upon by others for cashew cultivations and other agricultural purposes.

The dump has already spread into protected forested area. The mining giant is currently hunting for more parcels of land to dump its rejects in.

Survey No 1 in Codiem is protected forested area. It contains a tract of lush green forest. If they are not stopped, this forested area too will be buried alive.

Sesa needs more land for dumping

Considering that for every seven parts of earth that is dug up, one part contains ore, the rest - six parts - is reject. Sesa Goa is going to need much more land for piling up its OB Waste. In 2005-06 Sesa Goa applied for permission to mine 12 lakh [1,200,000] tonnes of ore per annum. This was increased to 20 lakh tonnes in 2007-08 and 30 lakh tones in 2008-09. This was when A Raja headed the Union Ministry of Mines. A Raja is the same gentleman sitting in Tihar Jail for the telecom scam.

Which brings one to the conclusion that, while digging a mine can and does inflict serious damage on the land, the dumps inflict even more damage. Especially when they keep adding ‘benches' or tiers. In October last the dump was 72 metres, two benches have been added bringing the height of the dump to more than 90 metres.

The farmers have accessed documents of Sesa Goa from the Mining Department. Sonshi mining lease covers an area of 62 hectares. Their first dumps for collecting the waste covered an area of 21 hectares, but these dumps are getting filled to capacity. They are now planning to take up three survey numbers in Codiem. The company is looking for 50 hectares more for dumping reject. They would then have effectively destroyed 62+21+50 and even that is not enough.

How can it be? Sesa Goa's annual turnover is more than the entire Budget of Goa.

Safeguards look inadequate

Sesa Goa was ordered by the High Court to stop dumping any more material on the dump.

Sesa Goa informed the Court that they would safeguard the dump by contouring it and covering each bench with geotextile to prevent landslides and damage to the surrounding forest land.

The geotextile sheets seem woefully inadequate and some of the lower levels of the giant dump have already developed fissures. Sesa is building a concrete wall around the dump to hold it in place, but [this] would prove less than useless against the enormous height of the dump, or the slope which is 55 to 60 degrees. The concrete wall will not hold the enormous mass of loose mud...

Sesa Goa has constructed a temple some distance away from the dump. They are taking all precautions to keep the temple safe by constructing a wall around the temple.

To make matters worse the Advai Nullah area which used to be thickly forested, gets the heaviest rainfall in the district.

This begs the question: Did the pundits of Sesa Goa deliberately select this area over the Advai Nullah to spread destruction far and wide?

The farmers predict that not just all of Sattari taluka will suffer once the dump collapses, the Mhadei and Mandovi and those who depend on the rivers will suffer too.

Trees were buried and more are at risk

Getting permits to fell trees in Government forest land is impossible since trees are not allowed to be cut in Government forest land. There is no law against burying the trees though.

Sesa Goa merely dumped the mud over the trees, burying them and raised the dump to a height of almost 90 metres. The trucks drive up on roads tamped on the contoured ‘benches' and we saw that they were still dumping soil on the dump.

They have already started extending the dump into a local farmer Tendulkar's property. Tendulkar had already leased or sold land to the mining company, he now owns several trucks for transporting ore and has built a spanking new bungalow in the path of the floodwaters if or rather when they arrive.

Sesa Goa has bypassed the Government of Goa and acquired land from Other Rights Holders whose names are included in Form I & XIV. Under the Right to Information the complainants learned that the mining lease is in the name of Cosme Costa & Sons, but the documentation says that the ore is sold at the pithead to Sesa Goa. The Environment Plans and other documents have been submitted by Sesa Goa.

Farmers' lawyer now works for Sesa Goa, claim farmers

Not only has Sesa Goa killed a 1.7 stretch of forest at Advai, the company also diverted the perennial nullah by digging out a nullah using heavy earth moving machinery to divert the water. But the springs in the original Advai nullah are now covered with mud.

The farmers in the area were dependent on the water from the nullah for irrigating their kullaghars (betel nut plantations) banana, cashew and coconut plantation.

Once the water dried up, they learned that the ground water too had depleted to such an extent that they could get water only by boring a well 70 metres deep. Desperate now for redressa, 30 affected farmers had taken the case to court in 2000.

Judge Ferdino Rebello presided over the case. In 2003 the judge gave the order that no more mining reject could be added to the dump. Nothing much was said about restoring the nullah. You will see how this is significant.

The farmers asked their lawyer to get an order for its restoration, but their lawyer told them that there was no need to. It is significant that the lawyer is presently working in the legal department of Sesa Goa. Of the 30 complainants, only two families - the Desais and Sawaikars - continue to fight against the monster dump that had destroyed their nullah.

What happened to the rest of the complainants? Most of them own trucks and transport ore for Sesa Goa and other mine owners.

No value in the soil of dump

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has a plan to take over all the dumps in Government and forest land, but this 1.7km, 100 mt high dump has no monetary value at all. It has been exhausted of all ore. It is just clay, say the farmers. The reject is mud shorn of all nutrients in which no trees except acacia and scrub can grow.

Acacia spells the death knell of forested areas, since the trees are water guzzlers and deplete the groundwater, even while spreading all over a forested area. Many countries have discouraged the planting of acacia trees.

Water scarcity where there was plenty

There was a man named Chari who dug a well just 15 feet deep. In those days, water was available at just 3 metres below the surface of the land. Chari used to supply 15 - 20 trucks of potable water to the mining company to spray water on the surrounding area and roads. Now Chari's well has dried up and he has to depend on the mining company's tankers to supply him with drinking water.

Reduced to waiting for a mega disaster

The farmers have given a file to the Mining Department, to the Chief Minister, to the Indian Bureau of Mines, to the Forest Department (1.7 km of forest has been buried alive by Sesa Goa and another lush green forested area is due for burial soon).

But the Forest Department Officials famously stated that they can do nothing about forests in Government lands. Each department of Government refuses to take a decision saying that they have no powers to act against Sesa Goa.

Deputy Collector & SDO, Bicholim Sub-Division has directed the Mamlatdar of Sattari Taluka to carry out the inspection and submit a detailed checklist with plan and photographs.

The farmers have submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister of Goa who is also the Minister of Mines to do something about the illegal dumping of mining rejects in the villages of Vaghurem and Codiem villages.

The farmers are happy but not too hopeful that firebrand environment activist Claude Sir (Claude Alvares of Goa Foundation) has taken the trouble to come and see the impending disaster for himself.

They know that destruction of fertile lands is inevitable. As will be the choking of the River Mandovi. Only then will the good people of Goa stand up and shout.

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