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Goa village wins compensation for fields scarred by mining

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Sep 30, 2007 | From the print edition

landmark is a much abused word when it comes to legal copy. But the Bombay High Court's recent order that six mining companies would have to compensate farmers in north Goa for rendering their agricultural fields unfit for cultivation through unchecked mining activities surely deserves this adjective. Mining has long been a problem in the hinterlands of the state, far from the national and international scrutiny that the influx of tourists into the coastal areas might conceivably provoke. The problem may have been exacerbated by the rising demand for various minerals in the international market, led, of course, by China's voracious industrialising drive. But it's been around for longer than that--and so have the methods used to intimidate or win over the opposition.

It is that context which gives the high court order greater significance. The people of Surla village, who filed the suit that led to the order, were categorical about one thing that they had succeeded in bringing powerful interests to their knees only because they had remained united by refusing to succumb to the divisive blandishments offered by the mining companies. Of even greater significance, perhaps, is the fact that Surla's victory might spark off a trend in compensation legislation. Reports have it that a number of villages in the neighbourhood have been so encouraged by the court order that they have approached Surla's residents for help in launching similar action against miners who have robbed them of livelihoods.

The position of strength Surla finds itself in, through its solidarity, is shown by the simple fact that though the court passed only an interim order, the mining companies decided not to wait for further proceedings, choosing, instead, to deposit the amount to be paid as compensation to the court straightaway. They have also made noises about wanting to see the farmers start cultivating their lands again. Though the latter might be a rhetorical flourish, it must also be a powerful symbol of what the companies are up against.

One hopes that this judgment will bring change not just in the neighbourhood of Surla but throughout those areas of the country, usually inhabited by tribal people, where mining interests are more than usually unscrupulous and vicious. But for that, news of this judgment must be widely disseminated.

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