The import of the special Mass celebrated by the Archbishop on Friday for Goa’s Catholic legislators from across the political spectrum who were invited to introspect on the people’s issues ranging from the need for Goa’s resources to be used for the welfare of Goans, protecting the environment, and the demographic change in the State, should be lost on none. It was a significant intervention at a time when the mining scam nailed by the Shah Commission, with its consequent implications for rampant in-migration and thoughtless out-migration of local residents, is playing havoc with the economic well-being, ecological balance, and social fabric of the State.
In this context, the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition ~ though both were neither
invitees nor attendees for obvious reasons ~ may wish to ponder upon the initiatives they could take to make a difference to the lives of ordinary Goans across the religious, caste and class divides.
To begin with, the current suspension of all mining activity has to stay till a new mining/minerals policy for Goa that clearly and unambiguously caps the maximum geographical area that our tiny State can afford to allow for mining is put into place. (In the interim, measures to alleviate the distress of downstream dependents such as truck and barge operators among others must be actualized.) This New Deal, akin to FD Roosevelt’s for the American people, must impose strict limits on extraction and export, ensure by statute that local communities are made stakeholders in the process and the proceeds of mining, and benchmark the industry to global sustainability standards.
To ensure no monopolies are formed, the usual suspects don’t cartelize, and the party in power irrespective of political colour is saved from allegations of a quid pro quo, the redrawn mining map of Goa ~ in which a rationalized number of leases ought to be auctioned anew, on criteria which takes into account not just the applicants’ purported expertise but also any previous sins of omission and commission ~ needs to follow stringent renewability clauses.
It will send out the message loud and clear that the days of the robber barons are well and truly over. That, indeed, is the people’s voice. The sooner there is political consensus on this central fact, the quicker Goa will get of the mining morass.
An annual audit ~ social, ecological and financial ~ by a regulatory body with teeth and independent of both, the State and the private sector needs to be formed on a priority basis as part of the New Deal. It will be a difficult task, this, given the potential areas of conflict between local bodies, the State and the Centre. But just because a task is difficult is no reason for not attempting it. Natural resources are public assets yet they have been treated, as private commodities to be raped at will by far too many for far too long.
Employment must and can be generated through this important sector but it need not be at the expense of agriculture as it has been in the past. As for foreign exchange earnings and government revenue from taxes and duties, the State need not worry too much. There are enough private players willing to trim their profit margins to realistic levels given the very substantial returns on investment a sustainable, people-centric, and independently regulated mining sector with clearly laid out rules of engagement can get them. As for the Chinese and Japanese, well, they will just have to learn to live with the fact that the quantum of ore extracted and exported from Goa will be based on our self-interest; and we can and will get top dollar for what we supply given demand is unlikely to drop anytime soon.
Let us be clear, therefore, on two points: First, nobody is arguing that the mining industry should be nationalized apart from the ideologically-driven Left. Secondly, none bar the hardline Greens want this potentially sustainable and genuine prosperity-creating sector of the economy to be shut down completely.
But those who have run the mining industry into the ground in Goa and wouldn’t understand the concept of sustainability if it were served to them on a silver platter with watercress around it must first be prosecuted, and the people’s money recovered from them and put to use for the State’s welfare, before we can start afresh.
For that to happen, the dependency of political parties on monies from the mining industry ~ all very prim and proper through duly crossed cheques, naturally! ~ has to be minimized, if not ended. This is easier said than done (and is also linked to the larger issue of funding of political parties and elections in India) but all it needs to come to fruition are a few good men (and women) with the political will to act in the public interest.
In Goa, the joke is that both the BJP and the Congress ~ not to mention sundry smaller players playing a lone hand ~ are just waiting for the other to “slip” so they can, in turn, slip into bed with the mining magnates…. Not for any personal or party financial gain, one hastens to add; no, no, perish the thought! It is all for the greater good of the State!
Our politicians are honourable men, after all…