There was a meeting in the morning with the Press at Margao Municipal Park. The objectives of the Yatra and experiences of 5 states were explained. Afterwards, the Yatra met several activists of Goa in a park. The activists narrated their stories of different struggles. Siddarth, who coordinates all the struggles made a briefing of the situation in Goa with regard to land and human rights. Shri Mirendo, a bank employee who also writes in newspapers narrated his struggle on the proposed sewage treatment plant of Goa government at Naveli village on the bank of the river Sal covering 40km length through Goa, supplying water to Margao and surrounding villages. He thinks that the project is not necessary at all, or even if the government is particular 2,72,000 sq. m land is not needed for the city of Margao to take into consideration its future population growth. The government has enough land as a buffer zone and they need not acquire further agricultural land.
He said that he and many other activists who protested against such projects and illegal mines were being targeted and attacked by the thugs. The life of two male activists at Colva beach who opposed illegal constructions and sewage plants was threatened for participating in Gram Sabha that was taking place on 27th. He was so dedicated that they are not going to give up even if they lose their lives in the process. The Police put the activists in jail–even the MLAs supporting the struggles. Norman D’ Selva and Melvin Periera also spoke about the nexus between the mining mafias and administration.
Neelesh Gaonkar, a 22 year activist from Tavare village was recently attacked by the miners, and could not escape breaking his hand. He gathered villagers against illegal mining and to stop mining and transport. As a result one mine was already closed; the order for the same was issued at 10’o clock at night when the villagers protested at the Taluk Office until the order was issued. His narration on the incident to the Team was inspiring. He said that 60% of India’s iron ore come from Goa and all is exported ot China. 70% of the mines are below the water table and exceeded the limit. Natural springs are disappearing. The river is getting polluted. Environmental clearance for mines was obtained by giving false report. The villagers had written to the Prime Minister, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, Chief Minister and other departments. But no action was taken so far against three companies- -Agrarwal, Magnum Limited and Sheik Salim. They were hopeful of the recent Shah Commission that came into force from the Ministry of Mines for an enquiry into the illegal mining.
Alan De Selva described the mega housing scheme of a Bombay based Raheja Builders at Carmona village acquiring 1 lakh sq.m land sold by an individual at Rs 500/sq. ft. The 400 households in the village would be affected with lack of electricity, water and road. The villagers protested against the project and now it is stopped as per the law enforcing if there is no enough land for way then the construction should be stopped. But the government is in the process of changing the law.
In general the cost of land in Goa, as everywhere, is increasing at an alarming rate; within the last three years- Rs 500- Rs 7000. The common man cannot afford land for building houses. When he started the movement people were unaware but now everyone is aware about the land use. The government has no proper record of land use. The government manipulated land use in records as per their wishes or plans. For example, there are 18 mines operating in one sq km area near Sacouli dam. 60% of people get water from this dam. Now with soil erosion and deep mining, the dam is getting filled with silt reducing the catchment area. The water table in the villages around is depleting drastically.
Larry Avlanches said that the there is an increasing police atrocities against social activists. The government show only the beauty of Goa to outsiders. All activists agreed that poor are becoming poorer and rich more richer. They all wanted traditional Goa to be preserved for the coming generations. They were thinking of creating a regional front party representing social activists and like-minded politicians.
Later the team visited an ex – minister and President of United Tribals Association Alliance Shri. Prakash Shankar Velip. As a tribal leader in Goa he is constantly in touch with the central and state ministries to implement Forest Rights Act that was not being implemented in Goa. According to him the tribal population was converted to Catholics at the time of Portuguese but later again converted to Hinduism. In May 25th, 10000 tribals went on a protest for land entitlement. Immediately after conclusion, the leaders were put in jail and the storehouse of the forest product was destroyed by the goons of political parties. But after the protest, there was little change the transfer of forest land . The tribals were being constantly harassed by the forest department and they were treated as encroachers. Through UTTA he is trying for the benefit of these poor tribals.
Later in the afternoon, the team attended a meeting with the villagers at Panchwadi affected by mining. The villagers very strongly oppose the bypass road and the dumping yard of the mining company which affected the entire area. Sesagoa Company of Vedanta has their iron ore mine at Kodle 10km from the village. They used Panchwadi village as their unloading area before being loaded to ship. The road from the mine to the dumping ground passed through the village. The pollution during transportation has destroyed all crops including paddy, coconut and cashew along the road side and around the dumping ground. Four wards of the village and about 400 ST houses are affected with pollution. The trucks running between takes away the lives of villagers everyday. The mangroves and the vegetation are getting destroyed. The company goons cut trees just before the day of the meeting. In the regional plan the dumping area was shown as orchard land and road for public purpose. But according to Shri Christev d’ Costa, the President of Panchwadi Bachao Samiti and other villagers, ” we don’t need any road here. We do not want our vegetation and trees getting destroyed , we want to save our village.” In reality, the dumping yard is paddy land and as per law it cannot be used for other purpose. There are about 1000 families in this village of whom 400 are STs. All STs are Hindus and depend mainly on agriculture. The women of the village are so strong that they were being up in the protests and threatened by the mining company. The government is helping the company. The people here are protesting since last five years.
The grama sabha that took place in the morning of the same day to approve the regional plan rejected the bypass road and the dumping yard. The company tried to influence the activists. But the villagers are so clear and united in their stand in saving the whole village.