London Calling probes the reality of mining behind Goa's playtime facadePublished by MAC on 2016-04-05
Source: Nostromo Research, Scroll.In, DNA India
... discovering a brutal response to tribal community resistance
For several years, the MAC website has reported community resistance to the mining of iron ore in the southern Indian state of Goa.
In particular, its coverage has focussed on the ravages caused by Sesa Goa and Dempo in north Goa - both companies controlled by London-listed Vedanta Resources plc (See: How has Goa mining "resumed"?).
Earlier this year, an indigenous Bahujan community in Cauvrem [Caurem], southern Goa rose up in anger against mining in their village by another large company, Fomento, and the allegedly fraudulent declaration of amounts of iron ore leaving the minesite. They blocked the local highway, thus preventing transport of the ore by truck and train.
One of the leaders of the action was a young tribal representative, Ravindra Velip, who'd been elected to the local council (panchayat). Along with four others he was arrested by police - then flung into jail, where he was brutally assaulted by so-far unidentified assailants.
Adding insult to gross injury, the police have refused to launch an official inquiry (FRI) into the attack.
Not all Goan citizens - including rural inhabitants - necessarily oppose mining per se, many simply wanting it to be done "sustainably" and within the law.
As pointed out by Amita Kanekar (second article below):
"The Cauvrem villagers are... not just opposing the [mining] illegalities, they also have a solution. It is probably this that scares the powers-that-be the most. After years of struggle, and much thinking about the problems of their village and their own future, the villagers concluded that sustainable, just and equitable mining can only be done through a co-operative of the local population.
"Accordingly, they formed the Sadhna Multipurpose Co-operative Society, under the leadership of Ravindra Velip, with the intention of developing a co-operative approach to agriculture and other economic activities in Cauvrem-Maina, including mining.
"However, although they have been trying to get their co-operative registered with the government from as far back as mid-2014, so far they have only met with refusal, which is not really surprising since this venture has the potential to transform the way mining is done in the locality and beyond".
Back to Goa - and the same old game
In October 2012 all Goan mining was prohibited by India's Supreme Court, following a lengthy judicial report that exposed numerous "scams" perpetrated by the companies].
But these outfits were allowed to return to the state last summer. The first to secure new leases was (perhaps inevitably) Vedanta. After all, the Goan government had enjoyed a chummy, and certainly highly munificent, relationship with the state's oldest miner, even before it was taken over by Vedanta in April 2007 [See: Delving into Vedanta's murky past].
Never mind that Vedanta had been arguably the most wilful and egregious offender against government rules and regulations during the previous six years. Says Amita Kanekar:
"The [Caurem] villagers accuse the [Goan] government of brazenly ignoring all the promises made to the Supreme Court regarding mining operations.
"According to their letter dated March 2, 2016, addressed to the police, chief minister and other authorities,'There are no personnel of the Director of Mines at the site, in spite of clear orders requiring the presence of such an official during all transportation operations. The Supreme Court-appointed Monitoring Committee is also never at (the) site and has also totally ignored our letters'”.
"The situation is ironical because the Supreme Court allowed the mining to resume only after the state government’s plea that local communities depended on mining for sustenance.
"The reality, according to the villagers, is that even the information about the ore auctions and transport operations has been kept secret from the locals, ensuring that all contracts, employment and profits from the auctioned ore remain in the hands of the same mining companies, government officials, and local MLAs, who were responsible for the mess in the first place...
"Instead, we have a situation where it is the people who are checking procedural lapses and demanding the implementation of law, while the Goa government is undermining due process and, thus, the law as well". Adds Amita Kanekar:
" What is this if not a rogue state?"
More than just offensive governmance
That may be true, but Goa surely isn't the only such culprit in India. Nor are peoples initiatives, like that in Cauvrem, unique.
Thankfully, such small uprisings occur daily,both across the subcontinent and elsewhere within Goa itself.
What ,then, should outsiders do?
Of course we can offer solidarity to the brave people, risking their lives in order to prevent a crass or violent suppression of human - and indigenous - rights.
Clearly we are duty-bound to take incompetent or quasi-criminal institutions to task on this account.
Nonetheless, the structures of bad governance are almost always crucially underpinned by the malfeasances and frauds perpetrated by corporate power-brokers.
This is certainlywhat seems to be happening in Goa.
Amita Kanekar again:
"It would take too much time and space to describe the long struggle of the Cauvrem villagers to stop illegal mining, including exposés of attempts to over-extract, to conceal ore as dumps, to make fraudulent inventories (showing quantities of ore much lower than what the villagers measured), and to destroy the evidence of large scale over-extraction".
Too much time and space? Let's hope not.
For, in a recent trip to the sunshine state, Nostromo Research was told by anotherGoan activist, of precisely the same illicit practises now being employed in Goa by the British company, Vedanta.
[London Calling is pubished by Nostromo Research. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those held by any other party, including the editors of the MAC website. Reproduction is welcomed under a Creative Commons Licence]
Meet the Kanhaiya Kumar* of Goa who’s got the authorities all nervous
Ravindra Velip, a 27-year-old tribal activist who has been fighting against illegal mining, was assaulted in jail. Why has there been no FIR in the case?
3 April 2016
Lakhs of people come to Goa every year to holiday. They come to relax on the beaches, taste the fresh fish and enjoy a cold beer in the sun. And when the vacation is over, they return with photographs of Goa’s salubrious landscapes, unmindful of the fact that the beauty would have long disappeared had it not been for the struggles of the Goan people. It is these people’s courage and determination that has saved the land from destruction at the hands of corporations, especially those involved in mining.
This is the story of one such Goan.
Ravindra Velip is a 27-year-old tribal activist and panch of Caurem village who has been fighting doggedly against rapacious mining. He is a founding member of Rainbow Warriors, a registered society whose aims include protecting the “interests of the communities, individuals and associations involved in, or dependent on, agriculture and other natural/ecological economies within the State of Goa; and to ensure that the State provides them with economic and legal security, adequate assistance and their long denied recognition and respect”.
Velip’s activism has earned him the combined ire of the State and corporations, which are even willing to subvert constitutional principles if required. He was brutally assaulted on March 23 while in judicial custody in Sada sub-jail, and yet no first information report has been filed in the case. This grave lapse should have been emphasised by the media in Goa, but it appears a section of the press, with links to the mining industry, is party to the conspiracy of silence. I saw this hostility of the media first-hand at a recent press conference.
After the assault on Velip, a fact-finding team was set up consisting of me, Prof Amita Dhanda from NALSAR, a law university in Hyderabad, and John Fernandes from the London-based South Asia Solidarity Group. This week, Rainbow Warriors organised a press conference to release the fact-finding team’s report entitled Murderous Assault on Tribal Resistance in Goa.
The fact-finding team presented its findings and concluded by making the following demands:
1. An independent enquiry should be ordered into why the police failed to register an FIR in violation of the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code.
2. A 12-point charter of demands of the United Tribal Association Alliance should be accepted.
3. Village panchayats must be given full powers to oversee the mining operations to ensure there are no illegalities in the process.
4. Justice demands that Ravindra Velip be given adequate compensation by the prison authorities for failure to protect him while he was in custody.
5. In consonance with the fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution, especially Article 14 read with Article 19(1)(c), which makes the right to form associations and co-operative society a fundamental right, the Caurem Co-operative society should not only be registered immediately but the government must offer all help to make it a success.
6. The State Commission for SC/ST could play a more pro-active role in ensuring the tribal peoples of Goa get social-economic and political justice.
7. Lastly, we would like to recommend to the mining companies that they follow the Ten Principles of United Nations Global Compact.
The day after the attack on Velip in judicial custody, anti-mining activists condemned the assault and demanded an inquiry. The chief minister, in response, said he would consider the demand after seeing the report of the “independent” enquiry instituted by the Inspector General of Prisons. The report was submitted but not made public, and the chief minister announced another magisterial enquiry.
Nobody, however, asked why an FIR had not been filed. The fact-finding team raised that question.
Yet several journalists were quick to ask whether members of the team had visited the jail, met the Inspector General or gone to the Goa Medical College Hospital where Velip went after getting bail. We pointed out that we were not a substitute for the police. It was the job of the police to investigate a crime and they were bound to register an FIR under section 154 (1) of the Criminal procedure Code. It was mandatory and it had to be done even before any investigation started.
Besides, the enquiry appointed by the Inspector General-Prisons did not talk either to Velip or the other four activists who had been locked in the same cell.
But a section of the media came up with all kind of theories – they even speculated on the integrity of the fact-finding committee. Why did the media object to our asking a simple question: why has an FIR not been registered in a case of such serious allegation although two enquiries have been instituted?
After all, the Supreme Court has held that “the provisions of Section 154(1) of the Code, read in the light of the statutory scheme, do not admit of conferring any discretion on the officer in-charge of the police station for embarking upon a preliminary inquiry prior to the registration of an FIR. It is settled position of law that if the provision is unambiguous and the legislative intent is clear, the court need not call into it any other rules of construction”.
Deprived of their lands
To understand why an FIR has not been filed in the case of Velip, it is important to understand why Velip was attacked.
Ravindra Velip comes from Caurem, a tribal village in Quepem Taluk of Goa. He belongs to the Velip community, which was recognised as a Scheduled Tribe under the Indian Constitution in 2002. The Velips were systematically deprived of their forests and land during the Portuguese rule, and the process continues in democratic India. Their lands are being usurped by non-tribals who pass them on to mining companies. The companies and non-tribal usurpers make fortunes while the tribals have become impoverished. Today, Caurem has five iron ore mining companies.
As Hartman De Souza points out in his book Eating Dust: In exporting 35% of the country's ore mining has used 8% of the state's richest land mass and returned just 4% to its exchequer.
Beginning 2009, the youth of Caurem village organised themselves into the Caurem Adivasi Bachao Samiti and fought against the mining and disastrous effects of mechanisation of extraction. The mining was being done in violation of the pollution laws. The villagers used the Right to Information Act and got information to prove their claims and then wrote to the authorities, but their appeals went unheeded.
Meanwhile, someone felt threatened enough by the Samiti’s activities to attack the president of the organisation, Nilesh Gaonkar. In May 2011, Gaonkar, a mechanical engineer, was going to Verna when he was hit with an iron rod on his shoulder. That time, a FIR was registered but the assailants were not found. The case was closed in 2014.
A few days after Gaonkar was attacked, the tribals of Goa, under the leadership of the United Tribal Associations Alliance, began an agitation to push 12 demands. One of the demands was reservations for tribals in the Legislative Assembly, entitling them to 12% of the seats.
The agitation signified a struggle between tribal peoples who were excluded from power and profits of development and those who had made money by depriving the tribal communities of their land and resources without any compensation. The tribals blocked the National Highway and the trains. There was heavy police presence.
On that day, two tribal leaders, Manguesh Gaonkar and Dilip Velip, were pushed into a burning building in full view of many non-tribals and the police. The two were burnt alive. The subsequent investigation resulted in acquittal of all those accused.
Ravindra Velip, who had witnessed all these struggles and the violence on his people, decided to stand for panchayat elections. He was elected a panch, the youngest in his village. Under him, the panchayat tried to regulate the illegal mining and passed some resolutions.
But in retaliation, the Directorate of Mines and Geology in Goa passed an order (No 01/1001/Misc-Mines/2016/5031), stating that the panchayat had no power to regulate illegal mining.
Velip and his fellow villagers then decided to deal with the problem in a positive way. They decided it would be best that they ran the mines themselves to ensure that mining was done transparently with due regard to pollution laws and with a proper inventory of the iron ore. The villagers subsequently formed themselves into a co-operative. They were confident that they could run an iron ore mine because so many of the miners in the area had been thrown out of work. Also, they knew the business of transportation.
The co-operative was called Sadhana Multi-purpose Co-operative Society and Ravindra Velip went to have it registered. Indian citizens have a fundamental right to form associations or unions or co-operative societies under Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution. However, the registrar of co-operatives refused to register the co-operative from 2014. The approval has not come till today.
To whom can the tribal peoples of Goa now turn to?
The Goa Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, whose remit includes recommending disciplinary action against public servants who fail to protect of the interests of SCs and STs, could have been one such body. But the Commission has not made any recognisable efforts to protect the rights of the tribal peoples of Caurem or their leaders.
Meanwhile, Ravindra Velip still fears for his life. The media, or at least a section of it, is hostile to him. It occurs to me that there are Dalits, adivasis and youth around India challenging the basis of authoritarian structures of our society and polity – in Goa it is Ravindra Velip, in Hyderabad it was Rohith Vemula, and in Delhi it was Kanhaiya Kumar. Their efforts are part of the movement to take forward India’s struggle for freedom. They are the Bhagat Singhs of our times
[Editorial note:* Kanhaiya Junar is the president of JNU University in Delhi, arrested earlier this year accused of "sedition". He quickly became the figurehead of an invigorated movement by students, academics and human rights activists against police repression - and more generally the policies of the Modi government.]
This people's movement is posing a challenge to Goa's mining mafia
30 March 2016
The villagers of Caurem are monitoring mining operations and pointing out flaws and illegalities, which is actually the job of the state.
The ironies of the so-called development of Goa are indeed unlimited. On the one hand, the government and elites of this state hard-sell it to India as a place of unlimited ‘good times’, to be used for holidaying, partying, drinking, gambling and so on , the price of which is paid in many ways by common Goans. On the other, the Bahujan communities, esp. Bahujan Christians whose culture is sold as Goa’s tourism USP, are painted as anti-nationals by the Goan elites when they ask for their Konkani—i.e. Roman script Konkani—to be recognised as one of Goa’s languages, or even for English-medium education for their children. As for the physical landscape of Goa, hyped as paradisiacal for consumption by largely Indian tourists, is disappearing before our very eyes. Whether it is destructive tourism of the casino and golf course variety, ‘development’ projects like DefExpo, the cancerous growth of second homes and holiday homes eating up the hills, or a refusal to mine Goa’s mineral wealth in a transparent, sustainable and community-conscious way, Goa’s ruling elites, in close collaboration with those of India, seem determined to squeeze out the maximum profit in the shortest possible time, leaving a desert behind.
But they are in a fight. Slowly and steadily, the many small and scattered oppositions are gathering strength, some with both better vision as well as concrete plans to replace the destructive and neo-liberal developmental policies currently in place. The struggle at Caurem village is one such, where a people’s movement to create a sustainable and equitable mining industry is growing despite virulent opposition from the powers-that-be, the latest being a brutal assault on one of the leaders of the movement inside the Sada Sub-Jail.
On March 21, Ravindra Velip, tribal activist and panch of Caurem village, was arrested along with other villagers, after they stopped trucks transporting ore from the Fomento-owned mine in the village. They were released on bail but arrested again the next day, when they once again stopped the trucks. This time, they refused bail and were hence remanded to judicial custody in Sada Sub-Jail, Mormugao.
The next morning, while on his way to the jail toilet, Velip was grabbed, gagged and blindfolded by what seemed to be four men and carried some distance away. There he was flung up into the air, so that he fell to the ground from a height, breaking his arm, after which fierce blows began to rain on his stomach and back, from boots and fists. "You think you’re a dada, do you?" someone taunted him. It was only when he managed to move the gag and scream for help that the assailants ran away.
What was the reason for this murderous assault, carried out brazenly within the jail premises where nobody can enter without the permission of the authorities? The immediate issue was the illegal transportation of ore from mines in the Caurem-Pirla village panchayat. According to the villagers, many of these mines have been implicated in over-extraction of ore or violating the lease boundaries. But the Goa government has till date not investigated this illegal mining, neither have they recovered the stolen ore or prosecuted the perpetrators of the crime. The government has also not bothered to record the amount of ore currently stacked at the mining leases despite numerous petitions from the villagers. In fact, the ore continues to be in the possession of the same companies, even though the villagers have again repeatedly asked the government to take control of it, only to be ignored.
On top of all this came the transportation of the ore out of the village, destroying evidence of these illegalities. This transportation seems to have been deliberately scheduled during the Shigmo festivities, when the locals are busy with traditional rituals which also involve travelling out of their villages. Despite this, Velip and others managed to halt the illegal transportation. But, instead of receiving thanks for saving the state exchequer from being robbed, they were themselves arrested.
Caurem: The heart of Goa’s struggle against rapacious mining
Caurem is a Scheduled Tribe village. More than 95% of the population here belongs to the ST community. The villagers here have been involved in mining since the days their forefathers mined iron ore with their bare hands and a few manual tools. But the same community is today up in arms against the mining companies and the government that backs them, having repeatedly attempted to stop the illegal mining that started in 2008, which, they say, is destroying the water, agriculture and forest resources of the village.
It would take too much time and space to describe the long struggle of the Caurem villagers to stop illegal mining, including exposés of attempts to over-extract, to conceal ore as dumps, to make fraudulent inventories (showing quantities of ore much lower than what the villagers measured), and to destroy the evidence of large scale over-extraction. They have also sent innumerable letters, petitions and RTI applications to the authorities demanding the monitoring and supervision of mining activities, and challenging the secrecy in which these are conducted. Most of these have been ignored.
The villagers accuse the government of brazenly ignoring all the promises made to the Supreme Court regarding mining operations. According to their letter dated March 2, 2016, addressed to the police, chief minister and other authorities, “There are no personnel of the Director of Mines at the site, in spite of clear orders requiring the presence of such an official during all transportation operations. The Supreme Court-appointed Monitoring Committee is also never at (the) site and has also totally ignored our letters.”
The situation is ironical because the Supreme Court allowed the mining to resume only after the state government’s plea that local communities depended on mining for sustenance. The reality, according to the villagers, is that even the information about the ore auctions and transport operations has been kept secret from the locals, ensuring that all contracts, employment and profits from the auctioned ore remain in the hands of the same mining companies, government officials, and local MLAs, who were responsible for the mess in the first place.
But the biggest irony is that it is the villagers who are monitoring the mining operations and pointing out the flaws and illegalities. This is actually the job of the state. Law and due process are critical to the functioning of democracy. It is the state’s job to ensure due process. Instead, we have a situation where it is the people who are checking procedural lapses and demanding the implementation of law, while the Goa government is undermining due process and, thus, the law as well. What is this if not a rogue state?
The solution: A Bahujan takeover of mining
The Caurem villagers are however not just opposing the illegalities, they also have a solution. It is probably this that scares the powers-that-be the most. After years of struggle, and much thinking about the problems of their village and their own future, the villagers concluded that sustainable, just and equitable mining can only be done through a co-operative of the local population. Accordingly, they formed the Sadhna Multipurpose Co-operative Society, under the leadership of Ravindra Velip, with the intention of developing a co-operative approach to agriculture and other economic activities in Caurem-Maina, including mining. However, although they have been trying to get their co-operative registered with the government from as far back as mid-2014. So far, they have only met with refusal, which is not really surprising since this venture has the potential to transform the way mining is done in the locality and beyond.
But the fight is on. This murderous assault on Ravindra Velip, though clearly intended to terrorise the villagers into submission, seems doomed to fail. Velip’s complaint pins the blame for the assault squarely on not just the jail authorities, but also the mine-owners and the local MLA. The Caurem villagers have meanwhile demanded the withdrawal of all charges against the arrested five and an immediate investigation into the illegal mining. They have also filed a petition in the High Court against the refusal of the authorities to register their co-operative. Ravindra Velip is the promoter of the venture, which is probably also why he was targeted.
Finally, this is a moment also to remember Mangesh Gaonkar and Dilip Velip, murdered in 2011 in Balli South Goa. Young and brilliant leaders of the Velip tribal community, they were fighting for the implementation of the law regarding government jobs and political reservations for their people, when they were brutally cut down in their prime. The grim resonance of the assault of Ravindra Velip with this past is not a coincidence. There is no doubt that the ruling elites of Goa are seriously threatened by the rise of independent thinkers, activists and leaders from the Bahujan communities. They know that if the Bahujans are allowed to develop their own visions for their villages and communities, the economics and politics of Goa will not be the same.
The author Amita Kanekar is an architectural historian and a novelist.