Fighting For Our Rights: The Goenchi Mati Movement & Its Inspiring War Against Illegal Mining
May 23rd, 2017
“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children,” reads the homepage of the Goenchi Mati Movement (GMM).
“Goenchi Mati” is a Konkani phrase that means “Goa’s land” or “Goa’s earth”. Begun in 2014, the Goenchi Mati Movement has been advocating for mining reforms, an issue of massive importance in Goa as it is the largest social and environmental problem in the state.
The GMM is based on two fundamental truths:
- Minerals are part of the commons: They belong to the people, with the state as a trustee, or a custodian.
- Intergenerational equity: This means that future generations should inherit what we inherited. We are simply custodians of the planet and natural resources.
According to the Movement, this means that the State should:
- Ensure Zero Loss Mining wherein the full value of the minerals being extracted must be received.
- Set up a Permanent Fund in which all money receive from our minerals must be deposited for the benefit of future generations.
- Distribute the real income (after inflation) generated by the fund equally between every citizen as a Citizen’s Dividend.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Rahul Basu from the GMM said, “We are fighting for fair mining. The ground reality is that while mining has restarted, so have all the evils associated with it, including environmental damage and human rights abuses.”
The theft of Goa’s wealth
Mining was one of the larger sectors of the Goan economy but it never exceeded 7.5% of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). It has provided employment to a lesser extent and funds to the state government to a large extent.
But more importantly, mining has destroyed Goa’s fields, khazans, and rivers. It is an open secret that for many years mining companies have ruled the state economy, unchecked and permitted to accumulate huge wealth from looting locals and profiteering off of the raw materials that form Goa’s heritage.
The unforgivable degradation of land, heritage and individual welfare was done in concert with the state and central governments. The Supreme Court had itself banned mining in 2012 after the Shah commission report on illegal mining in Goa was tabled in Parliament.
Mining in Goa dates back as far as the reports of minerals in the state. But the early mining was highly manual where pickaxes and shovels were used. Women and children carried the mineral on their heads up to bullock carts, which was then transported to the jetty where sail boats were loaded, again by hand. The money paid by the miners was much more than was possible through agriculture and traditional occupations. The whole society unravelled in front of this greed.
Over time, different aspects of mining got mechanised, larger, quicker, and more efficient. Trucks replaced bullock carts, barges replaced wooden sailboats, machinery within mines became bigger, and rails and closed conveyors were constructed as alternative transportation options. The progress was relentless – trucks were going from 10 tons to 25 tons and barges went from 600 tons to 2000 tons.
“Our work,” Mr Basu says, “has mainly revolved around litigations in the Supreme Court. Our manifesto has repeatedly raised the issue of miners’ rights versus the rights of future generations to Goa’s minerals.”
The apex court’s 2012 ban on mining was revoked in 2014. Since time immemorial, there have been countless violations by miners due to unethical granting of licenses by the state. Worse still, it is estimated that the system of mining leases has resulted in the loss of over 95% of the value of Goa’s minerals.
The minerals of Goa belongs to the people of Goa
GMM has been fighting for the rights of people ever since its inception. “The Indian Constitution makes states the owners of minerals, however, under the Public Trust Doctrine, the state is merely a trustee of the natural resources for the people and especially future generations. Further, under the Intergenerational Equity Principle, the people have simply inherited the minerals, thus are its custodians and must pass them on to future generations.”
But for different areas, different rules are applied. “For mining in tribal areas across peninsular India, a prior consent of gram sabhas is required, who may reject applications, or impose conditions. For instance, in Odisha’s Niyamgiri, as many as 12 gram sabhas of the tribal populations banned mining in the area. So mining leaseholders do not own the minerals under the ground.”
The Goenchi Mati Movement’s struggles and fight are inspiring for us all. The Logical Indian community thanks them for their efforts and hopes that their goals are met as soon as possible. We also appeal to our politicians to wake up and take strict and immediate action against illegal mining. Illegal mining is not just about theft of minerals, it is also about environmental degradation and abuse of human rights. Combating these evils is indispensable to the development of any society. After all, we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.