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Officials say villagers are not final arbiters
Asaniye is a small village on the Konkan coast in Maharashtra, surrounded by thick forests of the Western Ghats.
Residents here fear lifestyle change and loss of green cover once iron ore mining operations begin.
In 2007, the Maharashtra government leased 437 hectares in the village in Sawantwadi tehsil to Dempo, a firm from Goa. The government is now seeking villagers’ approval to obtain clearances from the Centre. A public hearing held in the village on December 5, 2009, was called off midway after villagers pointed out anomalies in the rapid environmental impact assessment (eia) report prepared by a Dempo consultant.
Villagers, led by Vaishali Patil of non-profit Ankur Trust, said the rapid eia did not mention the presence of 65 perennial water streams around the village and a sacred mangrove.
The public hearing was called again on March 20, but was cancelled as the election code of conduct was in force. The village gathering then passed a resolution rejecting the mining proposal. The state pollution control board has rescheduled the hearing for April 22.
Deputy collector Dilip Pandhar-patte said villagers’ views alone would not decide the project. “If minerals are there, mining will take place as a matter of policy,” he said adding villagers’ views would be conveyed to the Centre. Dempo said it would start mining as soon as it obtains mandatory clearances. The company claimed it would employ 222 of the 1,234 persons in the village once the mines start operating fully.
Villagers who have organized themselves under the Mining-Virodhi Kruti Sangharsh Samiti said they don’t need the jobs. Sandeep Sawant, secretary of the Samiti, said the village generates about Rs 4.5 crore from its orchards. “If mining is allowed, we will be affected by deforestation, mining waste and water shortage,” said Sawant.
Villagers said their fate would be the same as that of Redi village in nearby Vengurla tehsil where mining firms have been operating for the past 40 years. A third of the 8,563 villagers of Redi are suffering from respiratory illnesses according to a study in 2008-2009 by the local Redkar charitable hospital. Redi villagers said they have very little water now and their plantations stand destroyed.
One of the firms operating in Redi, New India Mining Corporation, denied mining was causing health problems. The other firm, Infrastructure and Logistic Ltd of the Fomento group, demanded evidence linking mining with respiratory problems and threatened legal action against Down To Earth.
Nana Kolte, chairperson of the anti-mining front, who used to work as a panchayat worker in Redi said, “I don’t want my village to go through the same experience as that village.”