The trail of destruction 

Goa may be lost forever to the insatiable greed of mining giants and developers Hartman De Souza

It is likely that a crested serpent eagle flying at its highest can see the whole of Goa — a little more than a hundred kilometres from the north to the south at its longest, and some forty or so from the east to the west at its widest — with just one of its eyes. It is actually the easiest thing in the world to circle Goa, although one should attempt this only on a Sunday — given the chaos and congestion that prevails on its roads anytime between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. on other days of the week. I made that journey four times while writing these chronicles, thinking that I needed to see Goa the way a crested serpent eagle would.

You could begin like me, with an early breakfast at the local chai shop in Gaundongrem, close to Goa’s southern borders and the rivers Galgibaga and Talpona, dipping bits of crusty village bread into a bowl of spicy coconut gravy with soft diced potatoes and peas swimming in it. If the meal is had during the rains, the prized wild mushrooms picked from the surrounding hills will find their way into the curry. Breakfast is just a stone’s throw away from the temple of Mallikarjun, and Gaundongrem is the last village as the ribs of the ghats slowly unravel eastwards. The road then climbs past the entrance to the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, snaking its way through several valleys, each delightful, beautiful.

This canopy of hills breaks just before Neturlim, the last watch between the plains and the human settlements westwards, and the huge spine of the ghats that towers beyond it to the east, reducing Gaundongrem to a mere speck on the landscape. Beyond, perhaps around prehistoric shrines dedicated to deities of centuries past and never discovered till now, lies the source of the river Kushawati, a series of hills that lets out the water needed to make this river majestic as it tumbles down through the valleys below, taking with it smaller brooks, springs and tributaries.

North from Neturlim, the drive runs adjacent to these magnificent ghats that line the eastern borders of Goa, coming in from Karnataka and going north towards Maharashtra, bringing with them corridors of wildlife that existed thousands of years before the area was taken over by human beings. At regular stages along the road, past the towns of Sanguem and Sanvordem as well as the Selaulim dam that allows south Goa to quench its thirst, you get ample evidence that precious water sources are now under siege.

Past Sanvordem, perhaps near the entrance to the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, one could stop for a light lunch. That depends, however, on how much of an appetite you still retain after witnessing first-hand the ravages of mining. If you are stupid enough to make this journey on a weekday at the height of the mining season — as I was — you would do well to drive with the windows closed to keep the dust out — baking slowly under the blazing sun as you inch your way through a never-ending line of trucks. Ahead of you are trucks going empty towards the mines, and the ones coming from the other side are overloaded with ore meant to be dumped into the barges that line the deep and easily navigable rivers Zuari and Mandovi.

One crosses smaller rivers, creeks and brooks — dwindling away in a silent display of the destruction caused by mining. Probably the saddest sight of all is that of trucks being washed at the edge of these water bodies, turning their crystal clear water a dirty brown.

During the three months when the monsoon breaks and mining is forced to a halt, a drive through this corridor is all one needs to witness the destruction that humankind is capable of. For close to ninety kilometres of potholed road, you find yourself surrounded by hills shorn of trees and earth. The trucks responsible for this carnage are queued on either side of the road — washed, gleaming and waiting for the mining season to start again.

On this mission to encircle Goa, past the skeletons of the hills and forests that once used to grow between Sanquelim and Bicholim, one bends northwards in a long westerly curve towards the old Portuguese fort (now a tourist resort) at Tiracol overlooking the sea. A break for some late tea, perhaps, or even a couple of tall whiskies with ice and soda to wash away memories of the unpleasant sights you witnessed along the way.

When you finally reach the sea, it’s with a heavy heart. The plateaus leading to it have already fallen to several consortiums, including Goa’s duly elected representatives of the people. The press reports this in detail. Lionel Messias is perhaps Goa’s first investigative journalist and a fellow black sheep because he cannot be bought. Everybody at the helm of power hates him because he has nailed them all with facts, figures and names complete with documentation showing which Goan politician has hooked up with which businessmen to colonize the area. But nothing really happens. He continues to batter them on his website and they continue to broker deals. Goa is just a pimple on the pretty face of India. The lawyers will come out, link hands with environmentalists, make little attempt to work on the ground and move the courts instead. Until those protesting block the roads, and resist till the bitter end, are there really any guarantees that justice will prevail?

So close your eyes then, because when you open them again you will see plush golf courses enclosed by fences with razor-sharp wire; more gated resorts for high-end tourists; plush housing colonies for the rich and famous; even a new airport for Goa that everyone here admits is not needed. Everyone, except the precious few with a big stake in bringing in tourists by the horde, and the ones that see beauty only in structures made of cement, concrete and steel.

An extract from the book Eat Dust: Mining and Greed in Goa, published by HarperCollins

Published Date:  Jan 16, 2016