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Mining ban sees a new, cleaner Goa

Last updated on: January 11, 2013 14:52 IST

Mining ban sees a new, cleaner Goa

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Jamal Mecklai

Anyone who has read even a few of my columns would know that I go to Goa a lot.

The mood, the food, the feni (of course) and, ultimately, the sea, the palm trees, the bougainvillea and the clean, clean, clean (certainly relative to Mumbai) air- this is the Goa I know and love so well.

And, lucky stiff that I am, this past December I was able to go to Goa twice in one week - once for a friend's 25th wedding anniversary/60th birthday celebration, and once, of course, for my own birthday (62nd, since you asked).

On both these trips, I was amazed to find that Goa had changed. Everything was uncannily the same, except that it was somehow much, much, much lovelier.

The air was so much cleaner than I remembered it - and I had been there almost every December for a couple of decades.

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Photographs, courtesy: Goa Tourism.


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The water was amazing- not just cooler than usual, but so much cleaner at every beach we went to. It even seemed, although this may have been wishful thinking, that there was less trash on the sides of the roads.

I wondered about it as I took another swallow of feni and babbled to my wife about how blue the sky was and how the sun was twinkling on the sea like diamonds and how fresh the palm trees looked and how the feni... She smiled at me indulgently as she sipped on the special ginger-infused feni that she loves, and said, "You know, you're right (she didn't add 'for once' - bless her). And no wonder. The mining has been stopped for several months."

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And suddenly, it all made sense (as it usually does when I listen to her). When we had arrived at the airport, things had seemed much quieter than usual - less traffic, less noise, a lot calmer.

The driver told us that the new government had banned all illegal mining, and then "Sonia Gandhi" said all mining should be banned till there was a clearer picture of which mines were illegal.

As a result, a lot of people were out of work and many people had less money to spend. But it was good - the air was better (he agreed with us) and the mining had been destroying Goa. The Congress will never come back, he said, and this new government is much stricter on everything and that's good.

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That evening, at a dinner party, I met some of the mining barons, and one of them told me, "$4.8 billion a year has just been sucked out of the economy; just think what that's doing to the people."

But as far as I could see – and, admittedly, on a fuel-soaked weekend it wasn't very far – the people seemed quite cool, at least until then. I spoke with another local Goan, a well-considered restaurateur, who told me that it was absolutely wonderful that the mining has been stopped.

While he was reasonably well off, he said that even the plain people were happy about it. They were fed up with how the mining had been denuding and deforesting Goa. He was a staunch Catholic and said that St Francis Xavier heeded the prayers of Goans, and that the mining ban would not be reversed.

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Mining ban sees a new, cleaner Goa

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A lovely sentiment, but, being perhaps a little more pragmatic, I think a better solution would be a strict, environmentally sound modification of the ban.

First off, the laws have to be followed, so the divide between legal and illegal mines has to be maintained. But I am sure that even within the legal mining sphere, there is a range of environmental practices that need to be monitored and improved.

Today, with mining banned, the equation is simple: $4.8 billion a year is the cost of clean air and water.

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Holding to this is a little too radical, and will begin to squeeze the plain people of Goa in due course.

A more sensible solution would be for the regulators/courts to require that mining companies have their green footprint calculated by credible consultants (like the Centre for Development Finance in Chennai) and link the lifting of the ban to measured progress on improving environmental impact.

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While this will doubtless result in a lower top line initially (fewer tonnes extracted each year) – and, of course, a permanent decline in margins – the recent sharp rise (over 60 per cent) in global ore prices (as a result of the mining ban) as well as signs of a pickup in the global economy would make the pain more bearable.

Importantly, this will enable the other side of the equation – maintaining the environment pristine – to remain sacrosanct.

This is the only way to create a win-win-win: for the mining industry, the local Goans and, of course, for all my visits to Goa.




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