Uncontrolled mining has caused irreparable damage to Goa’s ecology and
When Union Ministries commission “experts” to do a study such as the
Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report, or the investigation by the Shah
Commission into the illegal mining in Goa, one assumes the intention is for
the overall benefit of the country and welfare of its people. Unfortunately,
it turns out to be a wrong assumption.
In the era gone by, when idealism still existed, ethics was part of the
vocabulary and politicians genuinely fought for social justice. In those good
old days, development considerations and governance were about five-year plans,
equity, sustainable development and much more.
Are we imagining the existence of “good old days”? Perhaps those, soon after
independence, when finally we got rid of those colonialists plundering our
resources without mercy, count or measure! Or in a recent past, before the nine
percent growth became that magic number driving the government’s “development”
Possibly the truth is governments are not there to serve the people after
all, and that explains the fact that despite bragging about the biggest
democracy in the world, governments seem to be there to serve the interests of
their own parties and that of the privileged minority, making them even more
privileged and ensuring they plunder the country’s resources with impunity! Back
to pre-independence reality? Forget about colonial powers plundering our
resources! Privileged nationals are doing that exceptionally well without any
help from colonial powers.
And they are helped and protected by the State which has begun to suppress
important and useful reports, making it difficult to figure out whose interests
the government is trying to safeguard or serve.
The Shah Commission investigation is a bomb waiting to explode and hopefully bury in the explosion rubble a huge number of Goan politicians’ careers whose levels of cynicism and criminal activity should be a national embarrassment.
Take the study commissioned by former Union Minister for the Environment and
Forests Jairam Ramesh to demarcate the ecologically sensitive areas in the
Western Ghats. The report was unfortunately submitted after he left the ministry
and took “transparency” with him. We found to our dismay that his successor
Union minister Jayanthi Natarajan, shut the door of dialogue with NGOs. Further,
in her new brand of “logic”, she decided that the WGEEP report, produced as
result of pressure from Civil Society and contributions by many knowledgeable
NGOs working in the field, should not be made public to Civil Society until
state governments examined it first and most probably rejected it.
The logic of commissioning experts to do complex and costly studies, and then
follow this wise initiative by handing the reports over to a bunch of
“ignoramus” state government ministers, who are supposed to make “informed”
decisions and act or not act on the recommendations of crucial reports they
cannot even understand, beggars belief!
What is the significance of this manoeuvring and secrecy? Are the Western
Ghats part of a broad national security plan, by any chance? It is an issue of
national importance, as it relates broadly to food, water and energy. But the
need of the hour in this case is precisely the opposite of secrecy – what is
needed is public awareness and massive education of the masses and government
officials, regarding the importance of protecting and managing this region
wisely, and not a cover-up.
When the reports are released, the big issue for Civil Society will be to ensure the recommendations are implemented swiftly, whether the Union Government and State Governments like it or not.
Since when are recommendations to protect the environment a secret issue? Is
it because it will put a break on the frantic exploitation by mining barons or
corporates waiting to exploit natural wealth? Or, because it will impose tighter
control over human activity and expansion into areas that are rich in
bio-diversity and endemism? Or, because it will protect areas of crucial
national and global bio-diversity importance? Or, it will stop the expansion of
hill stations and curb commercial tourism in national parks? What is there in
this report that led Madam Natarajan to raise it to almost a status of “national
security secrecy”? Why has she been so reluctant to release the report to public
domain that her ministry even ignored several RTI applications? Whose vested
interests is she trying to protect?
On the other hand we have the Shah Commission investigation commissioned by
the Union Ministry of Mines, which should have been made public before the end
of the last year. But the prospect of elections in Goa ensured this report was
also prevented from being made public (so much for freedom of speech and freedom
of information!). But here, one can understand why they (not sure who “they”
are) need to keep the report secret, given that many of the politicians in Goa
are involved in the illegal mining business. Many candidates would have simply
wiped out from the election scene and ended up in jail, if their scams were
officially made public and acted upon before the elections.
The Shah Commission investigation is a bomb waiting to explode and hopefully
bury in the explosion rubble a huge number of Goan politicians’ careers whose
levels of cynicism and criminal activity should be a national embarrassment. But
national embarrassment is a thing of the past. So no wonder this report too is
shrouded in secrecy to protect criminal activity. But who is involved in illegal
mining is now common knowledge and despite efforts to suppress the reports the
public has a pretty good idea of what the gist of the reports is, thanks to
leaks to the media.
When the reports are released, the big issue for Civil Society will be to
ensure the recommendations are implemented swiftly, whether the Union Government
and State Governments like it or not.
After all politicians will come and go frequently, but once the environment
is destroyed irreversibly and our resources are plundered with no benefits for
the people, the damage will remain for generations to come.