Dream run over

Aparna Pallavi finds out why residents of Goa’s prettiest village cannot wish away mining which they hate

By Aparna Pallavi
Published: Sunday 07 June 2015

The silence of Revona’s verdant hills veiled in enchanting swirls of fog is deceptive. Usually, at this time of the year, the hills of this tiny village, arguably Goa’s prettiest, are busy as anthills, resonating with the rumbling of mining machinery and the roar of trucks. The road connecting it to Margao is virtually impossible to traverse with endless lines of dumper trucks going to and fro.

This year, however, Revona is silent and sullen. The ugly red gashes in the hills are veiled somewhat with fresh green growth from the recent monsoon. But the beauty fails to soothe the eye—in every front yard, along with the mandatory coconut and breadfruit trees, hibiscus and aboli bushes in flower, stands a truck with the plastic sheet covering its front for the monsoon, like flags of doom.

On September 10, the state government suspended all the mining leases in the state following the Shah Commission report, which exposed large-scale corruption in the sector. With no mining, some 300 trucks in the village have nothing to cart, and the time for instalments is approaching.

“I have Rs 7 lakh loan to pay off on the truck I bought four years back for Rs 13 lakh,” says Rajnikant Naik, owner of a small eatery in the village, “The instalment is Rs 20,000 per month. I earn Rs 700 per trip after deducting expenses. So I need 30 trips a month just to pay the instalment. If the mining does not start, I am ruined.”

In the hamlet of Kolamba, a kilometre from the main village, Bhiva Velip, who bought a truck two years ago with the hope of cashing in on the mining bonanza, has similar worries. “My family has sufficient land for a livelihood. I bought this truck with the hope of rising in life—getting a cement house, a bike or a car. Now I have Rs 6 lakh loan and no means to pay the instalment.”

In village Kevona, five km away, Frankie Fernandes is doubly hit. Not only are his five trucks, acquired over 16 years, stalled, but so is his liquor shop. “With no mining, who has money for booze?” he laughs sadly. Since he has no other means of living, he has no money for household expenses, leave alone repaying his Rs 13 lakh loan.

Cause of social discord
Surprisingly, none of these men have a good word to say for mining. “Mining has created rifts in the village,” says Fernandes, “There is too much financial inequality now with some people getting rich overnight. Even within families, there is a rift between farmer fathers who don’t want mining and truck-owning or job-holding sons.”

Also, water contamination has become a big problem in the past five years as the number of mines have shot up from two to ten. “The water tastes strange these days, though there is no outward sign of pollution,” says Velip’s cousin Gopal, who lost his Rs 8,000 per month job as a driver when mining stopped. “And there is less water in the streams for irrigation.” Gopal is also a marginal farmer.

Velip feels that the mining dream has let the village down. “We had high hopes when we bought trucks, but the promised returns never came. There are now so many trucks that even with all mines operating, even one trip a day has become a difficult goal.”

“We agree that mining is bad, it is damaging the hills, bringing social discord, and spoiling the youth, but we can’t say we don’t want it,” says Naik. “In this village there are 300 truck owners, 250 to 300 drivers and another 300 or so who have jobs in the mine. More than half of the 1,500 families are dependent on mining for a livelihood. We can’t just wish it away,” he adds.

So what could be the way out?

“We have learnt our lesson, but we want some mining at least,” says Velip modestly. “We used to dream of five-six trips a day, big money. Now we want just sufficient mining so that all the trucks can have one trip a day, just to pay off the instalments.”

“We bought the trucks because we trusted the mining companies and the government,” says Naik, “And now we are trapped. It is not our fault that the mines are illegal and so on. Let government take over the mines, run them within legal limits and give us just enough work so we don’t get into debt traps.”

“Mining in Goa is not new,” says Fernandes, “We had it since Portuguese times, and there was not much environmental damage—there was time for the land to recover. In recent years the big money dreams have done a lot of damage to the village. We want to go back to the sane pace of mining we had earlier.”

With the mining bubble bursting, there is a slow, painful attempt to return to roots. The Velip cousins are now more inclined to help their fathers with their coconut and areca-nut plantations. Fernandes wants to sell some of his trucks to pay off loans and possibly buy some land. “It is not easy to accept this reversal,” he says candidly, “But we know only land will sustain us. We only want some time. Don’t push us off the mines just yet.”

Photo Gallery: Welcome to Goa, state of mines

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