Goa: Sky's the limit as court rules against Vedanta
A nine-year old boy recently filed a public interest petition against the "unsafe" mining activities of India's biggest mining company - UK-listed Vedanta Resources plc.
Akaash Naik was backed by Claude Alvares, the highly-esteemed director of the Goa Foundation.
Last week, he met with some success: Bombay's High Court ruled that the company should halt its activities at two of its open pits.
In 2007, Vedanta took control of Goa's premier iron-ore producer, Sesa Goa; three months ago Sesa itself took over another major Goan mining company, Dempo.
Since 2005, villagers in the panchayat (assembly of villages) of Advalpal, north Goa, have waged a concerted campaign to stop Sesa Goa resuming mining in an area that was effectively abandoned many years earlier.
Following Vedanta's takeover - and as Chinese demand for iron ore rose - Sesa Goa enormously expanded its operations while flagrantly failing to prevent wastes impacting on local waterways, and even on people's habitations.
In June 2009, during torrential rains, the mining dumps collapsed, and wastes invaded local streams, homes and rice paddies.
Continuing destruction caused by Vedanta's other Goan operations; questions of compensation for damage done; the company's failure to provide a mine rehabilitation plan (and several other issues) still remain to be resolved.
However, Ashaak (his name means "sky" in Hindi) has undoubtedly scored a victory on behalf of his family and fellow villagers.
The young man wants for little in eloquence as he expresses his determination to continue the struggle.
When asked by a leading Goan newspaper whether he now fears harassment from the mining lobby, he replied:
"I have decided to shoulder this responsibility to fight against evils of society and if while doing so...I am harassed by the mining companies I am very well prepared to fight against them."
Aakash Naik: "I will fight the mining lobby"
Gomantak Times (Panjim, Goa)
19 September 2009
Just when the villagers of Advalpal had resigned themselves to their fate, a tiny 9-year-old boy, Aakash, took up the cudgels against the mining giant, making it bite the dust. Thanks to a PIL [Public Interest Litigtion]filed in the High Court by him through his mother, along with Goa Foundation, against the mining excesses, the High Court in a landmark judgement restrained the Company from mining at Assanora.
In a chat with RAJESH CHODANKAR the ‘chotta' hero, Aakash Shyamsundar Naik, talks about his resolve to save Advalpal village from certain death.
GT: What inspired you to fight the mining lobby at such an early age?
Aakash Naik (AN): I know this is the age to make fun and study but I felt that the villagers were not feeling secure from politicians and police in their battle against mining. Under such circumstances it was my duty to shoulder the responsibility in the interest of villagers.
GT: What do you feel will happen if the mining continues unhindered?
AN: The mining project, which has been stayed, would have Destroyed Advalpal village, its fauna, natural heritage, water reservoirs like springs, wells etc. However, had this project continued entire village would have not have survived. So, in order to avoid this ill-effect it was my duty to stand against mining.
GT: What are the ill effects, which you think took place when the mining was in progress?
AN: The mining project devastated almost the entire village during last monsoon. It was the blessing of the almighty, which saved our village from casualties. I cannot forget one of the dreadful nights of June 2009 in which a flurry of mining rejects along with muddy water stormed into our houses when we were fast asleep. I realized something had happened only the next day. In fact, the villagers brought this to the notice of the mining companies and politicians several times but fell on deaf and dump ears. During summer its worse because of dust pollution. I have fallen sick several times as a result of the pollution. The doctor advised my father either to shift me elsewhere or find other alternative.
And also, due to sound pollution I could not concentrate on my studies that's why my father decided to shift me to Panjim at least when my exams are round the corner.
GT: Do you think the mining lobby will harass you after the HC judgment?
AN: We have been taught about Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj who had shouldered the responsibility to fight against evils of society since his childhood. Taking the encouragement from him I have decided to shoulder this responsibility to fight against evils of society and if while doing so if I am harassed by the mining companies I am very well prepared to fight against them.
GT: What are your views on the decision of the High Court?
AN: There was a time when villagers had lost their hope, as there was none to support them. But, the High Court has respected the feelings of the villagers and has saved the entire village from devastation. We welcome the decision of the High Court and express confidence that this stay will last forever.
BOMBAY HIGH COURT CHECKMATES SESA MINING AT ADVALPAL
Goa Foundation press release
17 September 2009
A division bench of the Bombay High Court comprising Justice S.B. Deshmukh and U.D. Salvi today passed a brief order restraining Sesa Goa from mining Face 1 & Face 2 of the company's iron ore mining lease at Advalpal village, near Assonora, Bardez.
The Court found the company had been mining in violation of its mining plan. After the restraint order, the Court posted the matter to October 8 to take on board the company's proposal to remove within a specific time-frame the huge illegal mining dumps it had created along the Advalpal nallah.
The public interest writ petition was filed by Akash Naik, a 9-year old child of Advalpal village through his mother Sharmila Naik together with the Goa Foundation.
The petitioners had alleged that Sesa Goa was indulging in unsafe mining in violation of its approved mining plan. The petitioners filed complaints first in March 2009 with the Indian Bureau of Mines that illegal dumps were being created by the company along the steep slopes bounding the nullah adjoining their settlement. The IBM did not take any action except for writing letters.
On the night of June 6th, the fears of the villagers were realized as the dumps collapsed in pouring rain and tonnes of mining silt and sediment overflowed into the nullah, destroyed a concrete embankment and entered people's homes and paddy fields.
The police, the petition alleged, did not file any FIR nor were the management arrested for irresponsible mining.
The IBM finally visited the site ten days after the disaster. It found the company had indeed violated the mining plan. Notice was issued.
When a mining plan is violated, the Regional Controller of Mines is duty bound to suspend operations. However since no action was taken against the company by the IBM since March and even after the disaster, the petitioners approached the Court for relief.
The High Court relied on the affidavit of the Deputy Controller of Mines which stated "that the mining company had violated the provision of the approved mining plan by not dumping the waste in the designated places."
The affidavit stated that a site visit carried out by Dr A.N. Murthy, Senior Mining Geologist, "has also found that the environment protection measures required to control the waste from going out of the dump was not adequate."
An expert committee appointed by the Goa Government, pursuant to High Court's intervention, to examine the situation created by the disaster on June 6th, also reported to the High Court that "the nullah has choked up and overflown into the houses, which suggests that the drains and other related protective works could not cater to the requirement of the heavy rains."
The writ petition filed by 9-year old Akash raises interesting questions of sustainability. The child has stated that he faces a future in which his village will have neither water nor paddy fields since the mining companies have destroyed all the nullahs, and the sediment from their mining activities has already damaged their paddy fields.
The petition also claims that the kind of damage that mining will do to the high grounds of Advalpal cannot be restored or rehabilitated after the ore is excavated. The very removal of the ore will destroy the water bodies that have their source in the plateau. None of these issues has been considered by the Ministry of Environment and Forests which granted environment clearance despite public opposition.
The incidents of mining violations on Sesa Goa mining leases are a result of the take-over of the company by Vedanta, a company with one of the poorest environment records in the whole world. Vedanta is pushing iron ore extraction in its Sesa Goa mines beyond the capacity of the environment to absorb destructive damage. Allowing expansion of this company's operations in Goa can only spell doom for Goa's natural environment.
Dr Claude Alvares
Director, Goa Foundation