The mining protest moves to the national capital New Delhi next week, with 1,000 persons from Goa expected to sit at Ram Lila grounds and Jantar Mantar on the first three days of the Winter Session of Parliament. For the mining dependents the demand is amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act and Goa, Daman and Diu Mining Concessions (Abolition and Declaration of Mining leases Act, 1987) that will extend the life of the mining leases up to the year 2037 and allow mining operations to resume. This is one demand that the Centre is unlikely to meet, and one that even if it is met can be challenged in court and got rescinded.
But that is not going to stop the mining dependents from Goa putting on the pressure on the Centre. It’s going to be nine months since mining operations have been brought to a halt, and by shifting the scene to New Delhi, the pressure exerted on the government to act increases. And getting the sympathy of a few of the national leaders leads to national media coverage that until now has been missing. With the possibility of a photo-op and some sound bites to be given, some of the big names of Indian politics have accepted the call of the Goa Mining People’s Front to turn up at the protest grounds and show solidarity with the Goan mining dependents.
Some of the national political leaders who are expected to descend and sit with the protestors are Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, NCP leaders Sharad Pawar, Prafulla Patel and others. Along with them, will be representatives of the regional parties, including Vijai Sardesai of the Goa Forward Party and Pandurang Dhavalikar of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, as well as State Congress and BJP leaders who are expected to join the protest. It’s all prepping up for a major photo-op.
With the Lok Sabha elections now just months away, the opposition parties will hope to gain some mileage from their leaders showing up at the protest grounds and facing the national television cameras. Strangely, BJP does not want to be left out, and it three MPs from Goa are down in the list of politicians who will be taking their place with the protestors, despite the fact that the protest is aimed at the failure of the BJP led government.
The announcement of the names of national leaders who are expected to join the protest was made by the same persons who a day earlier had said that there is no political will to restart the iron ore mining operations in Goa. Directly mentioning BJP, GMPF leader Puti Gaonkar said the party does not have the political will to push the files. “If BJP leaders wanted, they could have got the file processed expeditiously,” is what he said on Sunday. Reports emerging from New Delhi have also said that the Centre is not keen on the amendments. What then, does BJP expect to achieve by joining the protest? Can the BJP leaders instead come clear on what is the way forward they have planned for the mining sector in Goa?
As the protest takes a new turn, there’s also a warning going out to the government, telling it not to test the patience of the mining dependents and force them to take to the streets again. At this point of time, rather than a direct acceptance of the demands of the mining dependents, the Centre needs to clearly enunciate what are the options before it, and the State has to admit why it has not taken the steps necessary to begin the auction of mining leases. It’s almost ten months since the Supreme Court judgement of February 7 this year, but there has been no progress on auction of mining leases, which incidentally appears to be the only possible solution to the impasse.