Goa: when it comes to mining, who's really breaking the law?
While the government of Goa, India, has promised to crack down on illegal mining, it is doing little to curb the activities of some of the most powerful business players in t he state.
For its part, the Fomento group has taken well-known mining critic, Sebastian Rodrigues, to court, following allegations against the company made on his blog site.
Goa anti-mining activist battles defamation suit
1st February 2009
PANAJI - Practically speaking, a cheque for Rs 5,014 stands no chance against a Rs 5 billion defamation suit. But for anti-mining activist Sebastian Rodrigues, it's a beginning of sorts.
Sebastian, who's been furiously blogging against the ravages of rampant mining in the less-glamorous locales of Goa, now finds himself slapped with Rs 5 billion criminal defamation suit by Fomento group of industries for "publishing false and defamatory articles" on his blog against the company's mining operations.
Interestingly, the criminal defamation suit, which objects to Sebastian's writings on mining-related ravages in Goa, has been filed in the Kolkata High Court.
The suit charges the 30-something Sebastian with posting "cooked up, false, incorrect and fabricated" articles on his blog, which are reported to have caused "irreparable damage to the plaintiff's business".
"Sebastian has for quite some time been creating unwanted unwarranted obstruction to the smooth functioning of the plaintiff at Colomba and Advalpal mines," the mining firm has argued in its plaint.
The suit further charges Sebastian with publishing "wholly false and grossly defamatory statements which are being made/published with the object to maligning and vilifying the plaintiff in the eyes of general public."
Sebastian, who has also worked as an activist in rural Jharkhand, has now emerged as the face of the growing anti-mining sentiment in the state. Other anti-mining activists and a significant section of Goa's burgeoning number of social activists have begun to line up behind Sebastian, also nicknamed Naxalite.
The Rs.5,014 cheque was the first contribution made towards Sebastian's judicial expense kitty by noted Goan artist Venantius Pinto.
"Advocate Norma Alvares is helping me handle the defamation case," the lanky Sebastian, slouching in his trademark crumpled black T- shirt and loose pants, said. Alvares is a recent recipient of the Padma Shri award for her contribution in the human rights and social activism sphere.
As the cheques begin to trickle in, the well-networked NGO circuit in Goa recently witnessed a hectic round of solidarity meetings in Sebastian's favour, with nearly every activist worth his or her salt dropping by to make an appearance.
Human rights activist Durgadas Gaonkar said: "Such defamations suits would not deter anti-mining activism. Seby's blog talks about the ground reality of rural Goa, which is in disarray because of rampant illegal mining by most mining firms.
"Farm lands are being layered with mining slush, making agriculture virtually impossible. We can give you hundreds of examples where people have had to relocate more than three times, as their houses developed cracks because of blasting in the mines, which keep exceeding their perimeter."
Goa Su-Raj Party president Floriano Lobo said the Fomento Group of Industries' move to file a suit in Kolkata was mischievous. "Their vice president Corporate Communications, Sujay Gupta, who has filed the suit, has his residence in Moira, Goa, a few houses away from mine.
And yet he has sworn on affidavit in the Kolkata High Court that he resides in Kolkata! This is nothing but harassment."
Pushkar Raj of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, who was in Goa to express solidarity with Sebastian, said that such "convoluted judicial moves" were only a sign of things to come.
"This is a bad precedent and needs to be handled effectively. This suit is against an activist today. Similar cases could also be made out against journalists in the future," Raj warned.
Writer activist Venita Coelho said that the defamation case was not the first attempt by the mining lobby to pin down Sebastian and his blogs.
According to Venita: "Their vice president of corporate communications, Sujay Gupta, did his best to have Seby labelled as a Naxalite some months ago. The falsehood led to red faces in the administration and among the opposition."
Gupta said: "Neither I nor the company would like to comment on the matter right now", as long as the matter was in court.
Mining has always been a contentious issue in Goa. The recent infrastructure boom had virtually quadrupled demand for iron ore, which triggered rampant illegal mining, leading to several conflicts between the mining industry and villagers living on the outer fringes of mining tracts in the Goan hinterland.
Illegal mining will be dealth with: Rodrigues
Times News Network
7th February 2009
PANAJI: Forest minister Filipe Neri Rodrigues assured the Goa Assembly on Friday that police complaints would be filed in cases of illegal mining in the future and assured strict action against any erring forest officials, including getting them transferred. He made these statements amidst allegations by the Opposition of rampant illegal mining in the state in collusion with the forest department officialdom.
Replying to leader of Opposition, Manohar Parrikar's postponed starred question, the minister conceded that he was surprised that certain cases of illegalities appeared to have been hushed up. " I am surprised to see there are certain cases which are hushed up due to political pressure," he said.
Alleging corruption in both, the mines and forest department, he said forest officials release wheel-loaders and other machinery within hours after compounding the offences in cases of illegal mining, but no police complaints are filed.
He pointed out to a case in which a contractor had violated a stay order by the court to extract ore in the Quepem taluka, and said that the forest department did not refer the matter to the court, thereby inciting contempt of its directive.
Replying to various issues, the forest minister said that the damage done by offenders cannot be restored. "I am helpless to refer the matter to police in regard to cases in the past," Rodrigues said. But he assured that in future the department would try to register police complaints.
Regarding the Opposition leader's allegation that some officials, including one with an alleged political clout, who was retained in the same posting for 12 years in South Goa, the forest minister assured that he would move a proposal for the transfer of such officials.
Parrikar had accused the official of colluding with operators in illegal mining, including fraudulently manipulating boundaries of forest areas and allowing cutting of trees.
Chief minister Digambar Kamat also intervened in the matter to say that a monitoring committee headed by chief conservator of forests Shashi Kumar had been constituted after the last Assembly session.
"It was to visit each and every mine, including all forest areas. Whatever action the panel deems fit will be taken," Kamat assured.