There are endless debates about the jungle raj, or the apparent lawlessness, in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. But strikingly, no one discuss the jungle raj raging in India’s mineral-rich states. Similarly, Naxal violence in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha often makes headlines, but the violence in Goa, with its greenery and silvery beaches, never makes it to news reports outside the state.

I have been watching the situation in the state at first-hand ever since I joined the Goa Golden Jubilee Development Council in 2010. At its first meeting, government officials made a presentation about Goa’s economy, stating that agriculture was declining with nobody wanting to pursue it. In fact, it seemed that mining-related environmental damage was of no concern – indeed the farmers were happy to sit at home enjoying the compensation paid to them by the miners.

But just as the work of our council was concluding, the Justice Shah Commission on illegal mining in Goa observed: “But no inspection has been carried out [of the mines, over decades, in accordance with the Mines and Minerals (DR) Act, 1957] resulting into fear-free environment which has caused loss to the ecology, environment, agriculture, ground water, natural streams, ponds, rivers, biodiversity, etc.”

I told the council that as a field ecologist, I would like to find out the ground truth. So, I contacted residents of several villages along the mining belt and managed to spend a full day and night in six of them, sleeping with the farmers on the floor in their houses, trying to understand the reality of the situation.

On the ground

I learnt that while a fair amount of Goa’s agricultural land was indeed not being cultivated, large numbers of people still wished to continue farming – in fact, for many of them, it’s a satisfying occupation.

It was clear that their livelihoods and community were adversely impacted by mining, that they were not receiving reasonable compensation and that they certainly did not wish to remain idle.

Hanumant Parab, Bismark Dias and Ravindra Velip were three of the friends I stayed with, all of them highly respected and socially conscious members of their communities.

Law of the jungle

A good definition of the jungle raj is that it is a system in which the state victimises its citizens instead of protecting them.

The fate of Parab, Dias and Velip in recent months vividly brought to mind the operation of just such a jungle raj in Goa.

Parab, for instance, was attacked by smugglers who were trying to bring meat from unauthorised slaughter houses into Goa on the night of February 12, 2015. On November 6, 2015 Dias disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The next day, his partially decomposed body was discovered in the Mandovi river, with angry locals claiming he could have been killed because he was at loggerheads with certain sections of the society and the government over several issues such as the creation of a Special Economic Zone, the Regional Plan for Goa and the proposed Mopa airport.

As for Velip, on the night of March 23, 2016, historian and writer Ramchandra Guha had the following to say in an article in Hindustan Times:

Ravindra was arrested and taken into judicial custody. The next day, with the evident complicity of officials responsible for his safety, he was blindfolded, gagged, and savagely beaten. He might have been killed had his screams not brought fellow detainees to the scene, whereupon his attackers fled. Shockingly, the police even refused to file an FIR on this murderous assault.

— Hindustan Times

Resolution stalled

The gram sabha of Velip’s Cauvrem village has unanimously resolved to establish a multi-purpose cooperative society, the manifold objectives of which include handling mining activities.

The villagers demand that if mining activities, suspended because of serious irregularities, are to be resumed, they should be handed over to a village-level cooperative society run by them that will ensure mining is conducted prudently and without damaging the environment while also ensuring that the benefits actually reach the weaker sections of the society. Taking note of the various irregularities pointed out by the Shah Commission report, the Supreme Court had imposed a blanket ban on mining in the state in 2012, but last year, mining activities have resumed in parts of Goa, shortly after the ban was lifted.

Cooperative mining is evidently a most desirable alternative, one that is very much in conformity with our prime minister’s slogan: vikas ko jan andolan banayenge – we will make development a people’s movement.

Yet, the government of Goa is refusing to register the Caurem village cooperative society and has not cited any valid reasons for not doing so.

Evidently, this is because there are vested interests involved that are afraid that if the Caurem experiment succeeds, there would be widespread demand from village communities in Goa who would like to take over mining.

In fact, this is precisely what the Supreme Court had recommended in its 1997 judgment in the Samata case that involved grant of a mining lease to a private company in a Scheduled Tribal Area. The apex court had said that only tribal people, or a cooperative of tribal people, could take up mining activity.

DN Bhargava, former Director-General of the Indian Bureau of Mines, strongly supported such an idea in a letter to Mining Engineers’ Journal on April 19. The letter read:

 “In my opinion, concerned authorities [should] consider a people-centric approach, give up the idea of granting mining rights for major mining projects and instead promote the idea of granting them to the local community. The government as a facilitator may provide them expert technical and managerial support and enable the community to get engaged in labour-intensive mining. Such a project would not require much capital investment. I consider that it is much easier to control environmental degradation in case of labour-intensive small-scale mining.”

The way ahead

While India must continue to develop modern technology-based industries and services, these cannot generate employment on the required scale. It is therefore imperative that this sector minimise its adverse impacts on labour-intensive and natural resource-based occupations and livelihoods and nurture with it a symbiotic relationship.

Above all, we must rein in what have come to be referred to as the mining mafia, the sand mafia and the quarry mafia. This can be best accomplished by organising villages into cooperative enterprises accountable to their communities.

This offers a great opportunity for India to replace its many criminalised economic enterprises with those that will nurture the nation’s human resources, helping it move away from a violence-torn society towards a cooperative commonwealth.