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Goa Spent Bulk of Money for Mining-Affected People on COVID-19 Relief

Goa Spent Bulk of Money for Mining-Affected People on COVID-19 Relief

Blankets of green sheets in Sonshi village provided by the mining companies to absorb dust. Photo: Neil D’souza.

On April 28, 2018, Devidas Nayak of Molem, a mining-affected village in south Goa, wrote to the authorities managing the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds, explaining that his agricultural land has lost its water holding capacity because the drainage adjacent to the land is full of mining silt resulting in flash floods during the monsoon, making it easy for wild boar and bison to destroy the land.

He sought financial assistance to desilt the nalha, and help in infrastructure for irrigation of his fields. Nayak, who was formerly working with barge transportation (of minerals), had lost his job since the mining industry shut down and needed financial help in protecting his fields. Nearly three years later, on January 6, 2021, his letter was forwarded to Goa’s water resources department for scrutiny.

Nayak’s plea is among nearly 200 such letters since 2018 that are with bodies controlling Goa’s DMF funds. These letters are from individuals, panchayat members, doctors, legislators, and non-profits representing mining-affected villages, requesting financial assistance for basic needs such as drinking water, water for irrigation, restoration of agricultural land, desilting of agricultural land, education, providing transportation for children, and creating health infrastructure – fundamentals of a functioning village. Three years later, while some of these requests have been approved, most are pending or have been deferred indefinitely.

In June 2015, through an amendment in India’s central mining law – the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act 2015 – DMFs were introduced in all districts in the country that are affected by mining-related operations, including Goa’s two districts, north and south. These district mineral foundations were tasked with managing and utilising the funds for the interest and benefit of people and areas affected by mining.

DMF funds diverted for COVID-19

According to documents accessed by Mongabay-India, about Rs 202.5 crore was collected under DMF, and of that approximately Rs 42 crore has been spent thus far. However, of this, merely Rs 4 crore has been utilised directly for the mining-affected villages, while the rest of the Rs 38 crore has been diverted towards COVID-19 relief. In March 2020, when the pandemic struck, the central government came out with an order that said that up to 30% of the DMF funds can be diverted towards coronavirus relief work.

But the central government’s move had come under severe criticism from several quarters including from the organisations working with mining-affected communities.

An analysis of the documents reviewed by Mongabay-India reveals that the DMF funds utilised for COVID-19 have gone into purchasing thermal imaging cameras, quattro machines, test kits, personal protective equipment, micro PCR systems – most of the equipment meant to be utilised in COVID-19 hospitals in major cities of Goa: Panjim, Vasco, Ponda and Margao.

A man carries a child’s cycle to the playground in mining-affected Sonshi village in north Goa. Photo: Supriya Vohra

Goa has two districts – north, which covers the mining belt, the coastal belt as well as the major cities of Panjim and Mapusa; and south, which also covers the mining belt, the coastal belt and the major cities of Margao, Vasco and Ponda.

The remaining Rs 4 crore went into providing water to mining-affected villages, providing transportation facilities for school children, pumping water out of the mining pits in a few villages, and desilting agricultural land for the village of Sirigao in north Goa. This utilisation, lawyers and activists say, has come only after being slapped by court orders.

“The DMF authorities have done no work for the benefit of the mining-affected villages of their own accord,” Anamika Gode, an environmental lawyer working for Goa Foundation, a non-profit based in Goa, told Mongabay-India. “If you notice, you will see that only water and transportation facilities have been provided thus far, and only one village has had its agricultural land desilted. Work under the DMF has started only after the repeated intervention of the High Court of Bombay at Goa.”

“It took them two years to even consider these applications. And if you notice in the minutes of the meetings, all COVID-related purchase approvals are post-facto,” she added.

In August 2020, two residents of mining-affected villages filed a petition against the Goa government, stating that the DMF funds have been misused by the state government, questioning the legal basis of the diversion of funds, and stated that the mining-affected areas have been completely neglected.

Hanumant Parab, a mining activist from Pissurlem, a mining-affected village in north Goa, said that the DMF had provided their village with 117 water tanks of 500 litres capacity each.

“We are yet to get the water though. They gave us the tankers two years ago but not a drop of water had come from them yet. They need to provide more tankers also,” Parab told Mongabay-India. The village currently depends on an erratic piped water supply from the government, and mining companies are mandated to provide water to some of the wards every day.

A water tank provided by the Goa government’s public works department. Photo: Supriya Vohra

Gode added that since mining had halted in Goa, the DMF funds would remain limited, and thus diverting them for coronavirus relief work was not a good idea, when the funds are specifically needed for the rehabilitation of mining-affected villages.

Mining in Goa has had a deep impact on Goa’s agriculture activities and on the communities involved in mining – directly or indirectly. The mining industry has been halted due to court orders but the state government is trying to restart mining activities to revive the state’s economy.

Courts driving Goa’s DMF fund

In October 2018, the high court of Bombay at Goa, based on a 2017 writ petition filed by Goa Foundation, ordered the Goa government to provide piped water supply to Sonshi village, take steps to control dust pollution and provide transportation facilities to the school-going children.

Sonshi, a village in north Goa, is surrounded by five mining leases and has been badly affected by mining. What was once famous for its horticulture, the village has been reduced to dust and misery because of mining activity over the years. Problems of noise, dust pollution, the safety of children as they go to school, destruction of land and lack of water are just some of the issues the village with 350 households has been facing for years.

In the same order, the Bombay high court criticised the DMF Rules 2016 for not following the DMF objectives set out by the central government, for having no representation from the mining-affected communities, and for being aimed more at investing the funds for the future as opposed to using them currently for the benefit of the mining-affected regions, as originally envisaged by the central government. In January 2019, the state government notified the new DMF Rules 2018.

According to official data, North Goa DMF has a total of Rs 105.34 crore, and has used about Rs 27.9 crore of this fund. Of this, nearly Rs 24 crore has gone into COVID-19 care.

Locals say their wells used to be filled up to the brim. Photo: Neil D’souza

From the remaining Rs 3.9 crore, approximately Rs 50 lakh was spent on providing water through tankers and pipelines to villages in the mining-affected areas, Rs 31 lakh to provide transportation to school-going children, and Rs 45 lakh to pump water out from mining pits in Pali, Surla, Veguem, Sonshi and Pissurlem villages of north Goa.

In a win for mining-affected villages, but a reminder that the authorities controlling DMF funds only acts on court orders, the mining-affected village of Sirigao in north Goa won a ten-year-long battle in the high court case, forcing North Goa DMF to provide Rs 2 crore towards desilting of the rivulets, agriculture fields and reconstruction of existing sluice gates so that their agricultural activity could revive. And indeed, by January 2020, their fields were full of paddy again.

A sweeper truck to clean the dust on the road with trucks carrying iron ore. Photo: Neil D’souza

South Goa DMF had Rs 97.43 crore in its coffers, and, of that, it used Rs 14.95 crore. And of that, Rs 14.10 crore went towards COVID-19 relief work while the remaining Rs 85 lakh was utilised for providing drinking water to the mining-affected villages in south Goa, and transportation facilities to school-going children.

Indefinite delays and lack of access

Apart from the lack of priority and initiative towards the mining-affected villages, the DMF funds have also been criticised for tardy administration.

According to the minutes of the meeting that took place for North Goa DMF in June 2020, it was decided that all applications will be routed via the concerned departments: water queries to the water resource department, education-related queries to the education department.

However, no information was given about this change, so the individuals would continue to send their applications to the DMF authorities, who would then send them to the department concerned for scrutiny who would then respond if it was worthy of funding or not and a final decision would be taken by the governing council at meetings that are supposed to be held once every three months. Another problem that cropped up was the lack of ease of obtaining information from the website.

A parking lot for mining machinery, next to the primary school in Sonshi village. Photo: Neil D’souza

“There is no dedicated website for DMF,” said Gode. “Some sporadic information has been provided in PDF documents on the mines department website. How is anyone ever going to update themselves on the status of the application? How will they ever know what happened to their application?” she asked.

“Goa could have been a model state for DMF activity,” she said. “Mining came to a halt, the government had a real opportunity to rehabilitate the villages and we could have really shone because we know that it is possible to bring the fields and water sources alive again and resolve issues, but sadly, the reality is quite different.”

Note: The headline of this article was changed at 9:49 am on March 19, 2021, to correct that Goa, not Gujarat, was the state in question.

This article was first published by Mongabay-India and has been republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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