16 Dec 2018 06:19am IST
Alexandre Moniz Barbosa
Just what was Power Minister Nilesh Cabral thinking when he said what he said? Did he even stop a moment to consider the implications of his statement? The minister in the Goa government stood in front of the mining affected persons protesting in New Delhi and towards the end of a 35-minute long speech that was in Konkani and English said, “If Claude Alvares continues to disrupt mining industry by going to the court, then we will have to throw him out of Goa. I will be leading to get him out of Goa.” That was a statement which amounts to a call to take the law into one’s own hand and it was made in public by a minister. He perhaps thought he could end his speech on a high, and so also called on to the people to raise their voice with him on the issue.
In an interview with Herald, (see Review section of this edition) Cabral defends his statement saying, “I have not said anything bad and there is nothing wrong in my statement. During the sequence of events that took place I asked a question to the gathering to which they kept silent. Hence I said that if he tries to stop mining yet again I will be the first one to force him out of Goa. I asked the people ‘will you come’ and they all said yes.” He perhaps finds nothing wrong with it, but there are others who don’t agree with him and he has drawn much flak over it.
Netizens have responded with outrage to Cabral’s statement. In response to this on a social networking site, Prabhakar Timble posted, “I stand with Claude Alvares. I protest and condemn the statement of Minister for Power. Do you? None can trample his rights and liberties, Government of Goa got revenue on platter because of Claude. He stands for Goa, mining dependents and victims.” Within a few hours it was shared several times and comments came pouring in supporting Timble and Claude. The indignation spread and can still be seen on social networking sites and group messaging services. In our Review section today, Cabral and Timble speak on the issue detailing why each one said what he wanted to say. In the interview Timble says, “This threat is coming not just from an elected representative but a Cabinet Minister. It is totally unacceptable, undemocratic and smacks of authoritarianism.” Yes, it is undemocratic, and a minister should have not said something of this nature.
Go back a few years to 2012 when the Justice Shah Commission report on mining was tabled in the Lok Sabha. Manohar Parrikar was Chief Minister at that time, and Cabral was MLA. As news of the contents of the report spread, Parrikar quickly announced a ban on mining operations, a ban that was later also imposed by the Supreme Court. But, the Supreme Court did not just impose a ban, neither in 2012 nor in 2018 because Alvares told it to do so, there were serious illegalities in the second renewal of leases, which led to the ban in February this year. Does Cabral not know this? Does Cabral not know that it was his party during its stint in the opposition that had brought up the issue of illegal mining in Goa? Cabral as a minister needs to learn that he has to speak responsibly, and anything said by him can snowball into a major controversy.
For that matter, Alvares has not behaved irresponsibly, nor has he done anything wrong or illegal. He has not taken the law into his hands. He has sought legal recourse to a wrong that he felt was committed and the courts, after hearing all sides of the arguments, have ruled in his favour. That is not crime. If Cabral or anybody else feels there is need to review the order, why didn’t the government file a review petition in the Supreme Court? Wasn’t this one of the options that the government had been considering before setting it aside aware that it would not go in its favour? Which means that the government too believes, even if it won’t so admit, that the process for the second renewals did not meet the legal requirement. Alvares and Goa Foundation have fought illegal mining, not legal mining. He and the foundation have battled the matter in court, not on the streets. Why should government not seek legal recourse if he feels there is something wrong in what the environmentalist is doing?
So, was the minister merely playing to the galleries, in an attempt to portray himself as a saviour of the mining dependents? He did repeat several times in the speech – and it can be accessed on the net – that he is with the people. As an elected representative he definitely should. But there have been enough promises made to the mining dependents, and this is another that has been made and it comes in a very autocratic manner. Which of these many promises will the government and those in the government who keep making them be able to keep? While making these promises the politicians must remember that there is no opposition to mining in Goa. The opposition has been to the excesses in extraction, the illegalities in the sector, the environmental degradation caused without any restoration. If all this can be resolved satisfactorily, will anybody – Alvares or anybody else – even think of going to court seeking directions to stop mining operations? No. The answer is simple – meet the requirements of the law.
There is a line in the Justice Shah Commission report that was released in 2012 where he asks: ‘Instead of nourishing democracy, are we marching towards anarchy?’ This one question becomes so relevant in this situation, but the answer could be truly frightening. But Shah himself had answered this question in the report and it is relevant to go back to reading that portion. He had said in the report that after a submission had been made about illegal mining, there was a chorus of voices stating that illegal mining should be continued, should be regularised as a number of families depend on illegal mining, truck owners are doing business and it provides employment. Shah’s conclusion to this was, “Hired persons brought by mine-owners in the said public meeting, leads to believe that the democracy is misused. It is believed by some persons that the liberty is given to them to loot the national wealth. This tendency may finally lead to anarchy and chaos.”
The State has learnt nothing since 2012. We are repeating the mistakes and arguments made six years ago, when there had been ample time to restructure the sector, bring it within the ambit of the law and begin afresh. There was no political will at that time, there still isn’t any. The administration plays to the galleries and the years go by and we remain as ignorant as we were in 2012 with no lessons learnt.