Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat‘s days are probably numbered. As the state’s covert champion of illegal mining for 12 years – that’s how long he has held on to the mines portfolio – Firstpost’s expose on the Goa mining scam could cost him his job, thanks to the interest Sonia Gandhi is now taking in the matter.
Firstpost broke the story on Goa’s illegal mining scandals on 5 September, and the Hindustan Times and various TV channels followed up the story over the last few days, setting the stage for a political intervention at the highest level.
On Wednesday, JS Brar, the person in charge of Goa in the All India Congress Committee (AICC), left for Goa to take stock of Kamat’s wrongdoing. He is expected to submit his report to Sonia Gandhi by Friday and the chances are that she will seek a change in the leadership. Given the time and effort the party has expended in making a villain out of the BJP in the Karnataka mining scandals that ultimately led to the ouster of BS Yeddyurappa and the arrest of Janardhana Reddy, Sonia may have no other choice.
Talking to Firstpost over the telephone, Brar said the AICC had received several complaints in regard to illegal mining against Kamat. “I am going to Goa to confirm the ground realities in the state.”
In our 5 September report, (Yeddy, Reddy, Kamat? Goa’s Rs 800 cr mining scam is next), Firstpost exposed how Kamat was in league with top mining companies in the state and how the miners were blatantly indulging in illegal mining under his watch.
Another Firstpost report (How Goa’s illegal ore miners are in league with CM Kamat) revealed how his ministers were running the mining business. A Firstpost reader complimented the publication for the gutsy piece and said we had “done more in this one article than the Goan media has managed in totality in the 50 years since decolonisation.”
However, Firstpost would have gotten nowhere without the evidence and support of the people who are fighting Goa’s illegal mining cartels from the frontlines.
In this story, we will highlight the names of some of the people who are fighting the miner-politicians of Goa in their backyards. If Brar wants to deliver true justice, he must meet them to get the right picture.
Our first fighter is Dr Claude Alvares, who runs a non-profit organisation called Goa Foundation and is leading the legal battle against illegal mining on several fronts. He is a ‘walking’ encyclopedia on illegal mining and has a databank which should have sent Kamat packing a long time ago. His databank categorically brings out the roles of top miners in the state, including Vedanta, Timlos, Dinar Tarcar and Salgaocars.
Alvares is still a well-known name in Goa. But there are many unknown fighters who are battling the moneypower of the mining lobbies. Here are some of them.
Rama Velip, a tribal from village Colome in south Goa, had caught the manager of Kamat’s minister Joaquim Alemao for carrying illegal mining activities in his village. His small village, which is about 6 sq km in area, has 23 mining leases and three of them are still active. He is fighting a legal battle against the odds, and the miners working in this village have slapped criminal cases against him and 20 other villagers for allegedly trespassing on their property.
Another crusader is Ramesh Gauus, a techer in the morning, a bishop to his flock, and a fighter against illegal mining in his spare time. Gauus, 59, lives in North Goa. After his school hours, he moves with a camera to capture every violation of the law by illegal miners. His house is a repository of RTI replies on 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 (Click here for Gauus’ story).
Abhijit Prabhudesai, 44, is an engineer who was part of the team that planned and executed the Dubai international airport. In 2002, he chucked up his job and returned to his native Goa to spend the rest of his life exploring nature. He found himself fighting the miners instead.
Slideshow of all our images from the Goa mining scam
Adopting a village called Caurem in south Goa, Prabhudesai found himself fighting the illegal miners when they drilled a hole through a hill that supplied water to the village through natural springs. The villagers were up in arms. Prabhudesai galvanised them to gherao the officer concerned and didn’t leave his office till he issued orders to stop the drilling (Click here for his story).
Cheryl D’Souza, a 43-year-old widow in Village Maina in south Goa, cremated her husband on her own land in order to deter the illegal miners from taking it over (Click here for full story).
It is from such courageous fighters that Brar needs to get his story of Goa’s illegal mining scandals.