New Delhi: Miners in Goa, out of job and cash for nearly two years, are on the verge of a total collapse and heading for a possible civil unrest, say reports reaching the national capital.
An estimated 300,000 miners are without salaries ever since the Supreme Court shut down iron ore mining in the coastal state. Another 100,000 people involved in ancillary business have been severely impacted. Mining was the largest employment generator in Goa.
“We are looking at a very bleak, very uncertain future,” Nilesh Cabral, minister in the Goa government, told this reporter in an interview.
Cabral said he feared unrest among the miners, who were without jobs for almost 22 months. “They have been very, very patient but you cannot remain without work for such a long time. Shops have closed, trucks have disappeared, many high-value machines have gathered rust. This is very, very depressing. We want the Centre and the Supreme Court to intervene.
“We could have a serious problem if miners turn violent and hit the streets. This is not just an economic crisis, this is among India’s biggest human crises.”
Cabral said it is unfortunate mining has been banned in Goa not because of environmental or health concerns but because of the interpretation of the laws: extension of leases has been disallowed without an alternative solution in mind.
There are many who support Cabral’s point of view.
Putti Gaonkar, a leader among the miners, said this far reaching collateral damage has shaved off a large portion from Goa’s GDP ever since mining stopped.
“We did everything what was needed, everything that was within our control. We went to Delhi and represented our case at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) last year. But nothing happened. Hundreds have lost their jobs, hundreds have seen their salaries halved, and many are just living on one meal a day. We are in a horrible, horrible condition. Those who pushed us out of jobs are sitting happy, their lives have not been impacted,” said Gaonkar, currently president of the Goa Rajya Kamgar Mahasang, a state level federation of 21 trade unions in Goa.
A report by the Mumbai-based Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy (CMIE) says Goa is witnessing its worst phase in terms of employment generation, and the rate of unemployment almost touching 40%, the highest in India. Goa, which once had top-order per capita income in the country, is now in trouble. Worse, the state government has to rely on Sovereign Bond sale to meet its salary commitments to its employees. Shutting down of mining operations has caused a 40% slide in individual incomes, claim recent studies.
“India is waking up to the demands of students, no one cared for us when we sat on the footpath near Parliament for over a week. Goans are peaceful people, we are still peaceful. But how long?” asked Gaonkar.
Gaonkar should know. Intelligence reports generated by cops in Goa say there could soon be a spike in social unrest and crimes, which—in turn—could spell a double whammy for Goa’s tourism economy. This is not good news because the Goan economy has been, so far, characterized by friendly service and a self-restrained law and order.
The Supreme Court will hear on 7 February a petition of Vedanta Limited on its plea to extend its iron ore mining lease for 50 years, from 1987 to 2037, citing the Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act of 1957. Highly placed sources told this reporter that mining crisis was among issues listed for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who met a host of industrialists to discuss ways to boost demand and jobs, and growth in the country. Vedanta top boss and promoter Anil Aggarwal was also present in the meeting.
The apex court had cancelled 88 mining leases in Goa on 7 February 2018 and ordered fresh mining leases and fresh environment clearances. The iron ore mines were shut following a petition by the Goa Foundation.
Gaonkar said the state’s social fabric has been torn apart because an essential source of employment and business generation of the state’s economy was banned. Before the first ban in 2012, mining contributed 25% to state economy while effectively occupying only around 5% area in the state. After the ban, the contribution is less than 1%. This is not all. Since mining was 100% export oriented, forex losses are significant, currently standing at a whopping $10 billion.
He further said supportive infrastructure comprising equipment suppliers, logistics and ancillary industry and the very crucial transport sector with trucks, barges, and jetties, have floundered. As per current estimates, more than 12,000 trucks and 150 barges and ancillary units are at a standstill.
Experts say Goa’s case is unique because it is the only state, which has a logistical arrangement for movement of iron ore from mines to ports through trucks, jetties and barges. In other states, where mining takes place, the primary means for transporting the ore are railway wagons. And the wagons are not always available because Indian Railways is on a perennial short supply. Besides, there are demands for wagons from the coal mining companies as well. So the advantage Goa had for being a unique mining state is now lost.
This is one side of the story. What is happening in the state is also very worrisome. And this is happening away from the hotels, beaches, beer and parties.
Reports reaching Delhi say families of the miners have almost exhausted their meagre savings and have been subsisting on loans and doles from friends and well-wishers. And then banks and NBFCs in the state have gone into a total spin and are heading for a slide. When mining was continuing, these very institutions eagerly extended credit lines because of stable collateral.
But in the absence of mining, the ability of miners to repay has vanished. This, in turn, has triggered a huge NPA crisis in the state. The miners, very sadly, are saddled with no hope, no cash. The owners of trucks and mining equipment are being hounded by banks for recovery of loans, which they cannot repay. Outstanding loans now standing at almost Rs 200 crore, 30% of which is from the co-operative banks. The late Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar, had promised to waive it off. But it has not happened.
“We feel sad when we look at the students’ agitation and the way the nation, its politicians are reacting to it. There is a sense of immediacy to it. I want to tell the students that their agitation is for the idea of India. Our idea of India is in our hearts, perfectly in place. For us, hunger is important,” said Gaonkar.