Hundreds of people dependent on mining in Goa defied prohibitory orders in the capital Panaji, blocked entry and exit points to the city and paralysed traffic while protesting against a Supreme Court order that has brought mining to a halt.
In February, the Supreme Court had quashed the Goa government’s order to renew the licences of mining companies in the state, and said the companies could carry out mining activities only till March 15.
According to the order, fresh leases will be issued only after companies get environment clearances. The court’s order came on a plea saying the renewal had been done in haste to avoid following new rules that mandated auction. All mining companies in Goa stopped their operations on March 15.
On Monday, the administration and police were unable to convince angry agitators to clear the roads around Kranti circle – the entry point to Panaji – and near the foot of the Mandovi bridge.
Mining dependents, including truckers, drivers, machine operators and barge operators had announced they would block NH17 in protest. The protestors were to begin their agitation in the morning, but delayed it to avoid inconvenience to students writing the Class 12 board exams.
The agitators abstained from shouting slogans against the government. However, they had earlier expressed anger with legislators and MPs from Goa.
By late afternoon, the police had used batons to clear the protestors off the roads, ANI reported. Local reports said several people had been detained.
Truckers are dependent on mining as they ferry ore from mines to jetties. Truck driver Vasant Gawde, 72, belongs to a farmer’s family in Goa’s earliest and busiest mining hub in Pissurlem. But acute water shortage caused by mining in the area has left his family’s two-acre field uncultivable.
“We were paid compensation for our fields by the mining companies, but it does not suffice,” he told Scroll.in. He started working as a truck driver for the mining companies 20 years ago. Gawde said he was at the protest because he had no other option.
Truck owner Suryakant Shirodkar, 41, said the authorities should have allowed mining to continue till the end of May, instead of stopping it in March. During a similar shutdown in 2012, Shirodkar got by with government payouts.
“Returning to agriculture is difficult,” he told Scroll.in. “All the fields have been turned into mining dumps and sold. There is nothing left in the village.” His family has been dependent on mining for the last 50 years
Shirodkar said truckers in the state had only recently invested in installing GPS and speed governors in their vehicles, and had spent on insurance payments that were increased. “In good times, I have earned Rs one lakh a month by running a single truck.”
Filomena Dias, 63, from Quepem said “tension over repayment of loans” they had taken on their single tipper truck caused her husband to die of a heart attack in 2015.
In most villages, at least 40% of the population is involved in mining.
“It is easy and quick money, even though it completely destroys the village,” said Anil Sawant Dessai, who has regularly protested against trucking traffic on village roads and dust pollution.
Nitin Gadkari, the Union minister for road transport, will arrive in Goa on Monday to meet stakeholders, All India Radio reported.