Not too long ago, the Vedanta Mining company announced from every conceivable rooftop that mining days were here again and made a grand show of breaking coconuts, as a symbol of breaking ground, to mark the “opening” of Sesa’s mine at Codli. Sesa is part of the Vedanta family.
Of course the Chief Minister was there to clap and cheer the return of ache din – the most misused two words in the history of Modi’s India, and congratulated Sesa (Vedanta’s Goa company), which issued a press release which stated, “The reopening ceremony of Codli mine was inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Goa, Mr Laxmikant Parsekar. Vedanta has become the first company to restart iron ore mining in Goa. Today’s announcement marks the resumption of iron ore mining in the state after a gap of nearly 3 years.”
The press release was issued from the headquarters of Vedanta Resources plc 16 Berkeley Street, London on August 10, 2015, just as the rain came down in Goa.
From August 10, Berkeley Street, let’s cut to December 4, Bicholim, and smell the ore. The All Goa Truck Owners Association, (AGTOA) in utter frustration, that their demands for better rates for ore transportation, were not met, escalated their agitation to a violent level and blocked the road near Surla in Bicholim.
The anger was directed at mining companies, and in this case, specifically Sesa Goa, for forcing them to start operations without discussing demands with the AGTOA. The standoff reached a flashpoint when a truck belonging to Sandeep Gaonkar, believed to be a close relative of the Savordem MLA Ganesh Gaonkar, was set on fire. Gaonkar, though an MLA, is a stakeholder in the mining business and has won his election with the extensive and clear support of mining companies.
There are three very clear takeaways from these incidents, each a telling commentary on how the mining resumption announcement was totally misleading.
1) There has been no resumption of mining. Breaking coconuts and making a grand spectacle of this was music to mining workers, but the tune soon became discordant when they realised that mining operations were nowhere near to commencing. Only transportation of auctioned ore would start.
2) Transportation of ore can take place smoothly only when transportation rates are agreed upon. Gone are the days when fly by night contactors, and those who shipped stolen ore (by getting fudged challans from the mines department) needed mining trucks by the dozen. It was the ore transport business which really thrived, not the extraction business. The mining companies dangled the carrot of mining resumption and ache din purely for political reasons and
3) The mining MLAs who have targeted Goa’s green warrior and proponent of state controlled and conducted mining, Claude Alvares, will and actually have, become the target of the wrath of Goan truck, barge and machinery owners.
The bogey of Goa Foundation preventing the resumption of mining was exposed by Nilkant Gawas, the President of the AGTOA. “The government should check and have control over mining. There is no problem if mining is stopped but we will not give up”, he said. Gawas says that he wants just treatment in the form of better and rates for truck owners. Claude Alvares is not his villain. The government and mining companies are.
Goan truck, machinery and barge owners are peeved because they feel that mining MLAs are actually businessmen who depend on the mining companies. For instance, Ganesh Gaonkar’s family has business links with Sesa. Nilesh Cabral, the Curchorem MLA’s family has a barge business. At the same time mining machinery is being increasingly being brought from Maharashtra and Karnataka, denying Goan machinery suppliers business.
Therefore Berkeley Street London will hardly see the reality of Surla road Bicholim, where the mining truck belonging to Ganesh Gaonkar’s family was burnt. Mining hasn’t resumed. It’s trapped in its own web of mismanagement and irregularity which will need more than a humble coconut to break.