The identification of 69 villages along the Western Ghats and close to protected wildlife sanctuaries as eco-sensitive areas (ESAs) is a major boost to the protection of the environment in the State, but this would spell doom to mining in Goa. Fresh mining activities are prohibited in ESAs, while the existing ones have to be phased out within five years from the date the villages are notified. So here’s a toss-up between protecting the ecology and improving the economy, Goa has to decide what it wants, which of the two options would be better for it, and it has to decide now.
Very interesting is that the government had earlier identified only 19 villages as eco-sensitive areas as against the 97 villages identified by the High Level Working Group of Ministry of Environment and Forest headed by Dr Kasturirangan Committee. In a decision that came in favour of the environment, the Union Minister of Environment and Forest rejected Goa’s proposal and directed it to submit a fresh one. That is when the number of villages as eco-sensitive areas was increased to 69, but this number is still much less than the 97 that the Kasturirangan Committee had identified. Goa still loses in this respect.
But there is hope that the green cover in these villages identified as eco-sensitive areas, will be protected. As per the existing CRZ notification no development of any nature is permissible within 200 metres of the high tide line from the coastal side and 100 metres from riverine land. Besides this, under the Indian Forest Act, the Forest Department has also notified lands as reserve forest, protected area and private forest by way of which 33 per cent of the total land of the State cannot be used for any purpose other than forest activities. This protects quite a vast amount of land, but illegalities are always a threat, destroying the beaches and the forest areas of the State.
One such illegality now has the demolition axe over it. The week also saw the Supreme Court dismiss an appeal by the Silver Sands hotel in Colva against the demolition order of the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority, that has found that the structures of the hotel were all constructed after 1991 and hence violating the CRZ notification. In a land where legal matter take time to reach a conclusion, this case was quickly disposed off, and this augurs well for the State and the environment. While the GCZMA order came on December 5 last year, the hotel approached the National Green Tribunal who dismissed the appeal on n January 3, 2019, following which they approached the Supreme Court, which on January 18 dismissed the appeal.
It is precisely because Goa is small in size, that its green cover and its eco-sensitive areas require added protection. The State has a green cover of 54 per cent, and given the fragile nature of the land, none of this can be allowed to be destroyed. Mining cannot be allowed to restart without enough checks and balances in place to ensure that the environment is not battered by the operations. This has happened in the past, and it cannot be allowed to recur.
Any illegalities in the mining sector would have to be dealt with in the same manner as the Silver Sands hotel in Colva.
While protecting the environment will have long term benefits, mining operations would lead to monetary profits in the short term, but result in ecological losses in the decades to come. This is what Goa needs to consider before it takes any decision on restarting mining operations in the State. It has to think of the future, of the generations to come, and what legacy they will pass on to their descendents.