I specifically clarified to both the Hon. Minister of Environment, Shri Prakash Javdekar and the former Chief Minister of Goa, Shri Manohar Parrikar, that WGEEP was not in favour of simply banning activities like mining everywhere, but urged that mining and other such activities should be conducted only after taking the wishes of the local communities on board and ensuring that the benefits truly flow to the people, especially the economically and socially deprived segments of the society. Thus, Goa could revive its currently stagnating mining business and mismanaged community resources through novel initiatives involving people. In this context, the provisions of the 2006 Forest Rights Act conferring management rights over Community Forest Resources to tribal, as well as other traditional forest dwellers are very pertinent. The ownership of such Community Forest Resources remains vested with the state, and these cannot be diverted to other purposes.
We have excellent examples from Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra of how good management of these Community Forest Resources is bringing economic prosperity to tribal communities that were leading a precarious existence earlier. Notably, now the people are on their own protecting part of these forests as newly constituted strict nature reserves. The Forest Rights Act is especially applicable to villages like Caurem in Goa’s Kepem taluka. Here palpably illegal mining operations have severely damaged water resources, adversely affected farming and horticulture, and created social anger and tensions. The mines are currently closed because of the illegalities and the Caurem Gram Sabha has unanimously resolved that that if they are to be restarted, this should be done through the agency of their Multi-purpose Co-operative Society.
True, the cooperative sector has had its share of problems, but so has the private sector and state enterprises. At the same time there are shining examples like Amul Dairy of successes in the cooperative sector. The Government of Goa ought therefore to seize this golden opportunity and do all that it can to ensure that management of mines by the village level cooperative society succeeds.
An Economy of violence
But what has the response of the Government been? Permit me to quote from an article by the highly respected writer and social commentator, Ramachandra Guha that appeared in Hindustan Times on 24th April, 2016.
“I (then) drove to the south-east of the state, to the village of Caurem, set amidst fields and forests. Here lives a young tribal activist named Ravindra Velip, who has been at the forefront of social protests against illegal mining. Last month, 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 suffered multiple fractures, and 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.
In Caurem I met Ravindra Velip, his arm in a sling. I also met with the villagers, whose morale and resolve was intact, the women’s especially. The villagers of Caurem argue that if mining is necessary, local co-operatives should be entrusted with the job, since they would take greater care not to damage the environment while retaining the proceeds within the community.
Although most Indian and foreign tourists may not know or care, something is very rotten in the state of Goa. The citizens of Goa know and care, since they see and experience it all the time.”
Excerpts from the talk on the topic ‘ Development is for the people: emerging challenges for the cooperative movement’ to be delivered by Prof Madhav Gadgil at the Father Thomas Kochery Memorial Lecture, Thiruvananthapuram on 3rd May, 2016