On holidays, he is a bishop. In the morning, he is a teacher, taking classes in a rural government school. For the rest of his time, he is a crusader against Goa’s illegal miners.
Ramesh Gauus, 59, lives in north Goa. After school hours, he moves with a camera to capture every violation of the law by miners. In his house is a heap of RTI replies on every aspect of Goan mining. He doesn’t run any NGO. He doesn't represent any environmental group. He is a one-man army unleashing himself against the miners.
Taking a French camera crew to a Bicholi mine last month, he showed them a river, about 50 metres away from huge mining dumps. "You check the report of this mine. They have shown in their environmental clearance report that there is no natural water body near the mine site."
Gauus says not a single mine "complies with environmental rules. These miners are bribing everyone, including the villagers, to keep the truth under cover. They pay Rs 25,000 per annum to farmers who have lost their cultivation (rights) due to mining."
Gauus squarely blames his states' politicians, mainly Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, for the mining scandals.
The French media crew then went with him to one of the mines owned by the Chougules. It was a huge crater and the miners had even reached the ground water. They were pumping it out to prepare the pit for further mining.
How are miners mining this land with such impunity?
Says Gauus: "The Portuguese had given land as concessions to some powerful houses during their days. Their writ still rules independent Goa. Chougule is one of the powerful families of Goa. During Portuguese times, it wasn’t scientifically possible to identify areas conducive for mining. The Portuguese thus ended up allotting all the hills and plains of the hinterland of Goa for mining. Goa is only 115 km in its length and width. And the Portuguese gave away 95 km of natural property as concessions to these influential private people. Even those mines, which were dormant during Portuguese times, have begun working on the sly during Kamat's tenure."
The mining laws have since been changed, but the strong political nexus and support from CM Kamat ensures that it continues unabated.
There are two recent instances which seal Kamat's role in supporting illegal mining. "Tribals in village Caurem met the Chief Minister in February 2011, bringing to his notice that illegal mining was happening in their village. Kamat promised to stop the mining with immediate effect. This, however, didn't happen. A month later, the tribals sat in a dharna inside the office of the mines director at Panaji. On 1 March they sat till 10.30 pm in the night till the director gave written orders for closing the illegal mine,” says Gauus.
“Another instance is the mines owned by Zhatiye at Bicholi. The mines have silted the city’s only river beyond doubt. Several representations have been sent to the CM (Digambar Kamat). He even appointed a committee to look into the matter and the committee squarely blamed the mines for the river mess. It was within Kamat's power to cancel the mining licences, but he didn't," Gauus alleges.
Not only the Chief Minister, but some of his ministers are also involved in the mining scandal, claims Gauus. "In Sattari Taluka, north Goa, the local residents forced the police to seize miners’ equipment, machines and trucks from illegal mines. Overnight, the machines disappeared. All the mines that operate in north Goa have the blessings of Health Minister Vishwajeet Rane, who is the only minister from this region."
If Goa's illegal mines are ever wound down, it will be because of the untiring efforts of Gauus and others of his ilk.