Beyond Goa’s beaches, lakhs of unemployed voters want the state's mines reopened
- Polling for 2 seats in the Indian state of
Goa- North Goa and South Goa - gets underway today.
Congressis pinning its hopes on resentment against the state’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, for the latter’s inability to resolve a miningcrisis.
- In March 2018, iron ore mining operations in Goa were abruptly suspended after the Supreme Court decided not to renew 88 mining leases after a technical review of the government’s lease renewal process.
However, that’s not the biggest issue that will be on voters’ minds.
As polling for 2 seats in the Indian state of Goa - North Goa and South Goa - gets underway today, the Congress is pinning its hopes on resentment against the state’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, for the latter’s inability to resolve a mining crisis despite being in power at both the centre and the state.
The BJP famously secured control of the Goa in 2017, despite not having a majority, by allying with local parties against the Congress.
In March 2018, iron ore mining operations in Goa were abruptly suspended after the Supreme Court decided not to renew 88 mining leases after a technical review of the government’s lease renewal process.
The Supreme Court felt that the leases had been renewed in haste and without taking into consideration a number of issues such as environmental impact. It’s order effectively shut down mining activity in the state.
The ban has had a cascading effect on the economy. Mining reportedly contributes 20% of the state’s revenues directly, in addition to indirectly supplementing the transportation and logistics sectors.
It has also exacerbated the state’s unemployment problem. At the end of 2015-16, the unemployment rate in Goa was touching 10%, a figure that has likely gone up significantly since the ban.
Around 300,000 people in the state are said to be dependent on mining as a source of their livelihoods, according to Girish Chodankar, the Congress candidate for the North Goa
In the aftermath of the closure, the BJP had promised to enable the commencement of mining operations but has so far been unable to extend these leases, having reportedly tried multiple options such as amending the Abolitions & Declaration of Mining Leases Act. Its efforts have likely been hindered by the sickness and eventual death of the state’s chief minister,
Over the course of his campaign, Parrikar’s successor, Pramod Sawant, has promised a solution for the mining crisis within six months of elections.
Even BJP leaders Narendra Modi and Suresh Prabhu, the commerce and industry minister, have promised an end to the crisis. At an alection rally in the state capital, Panaji, Modi declared "I will leave no stone unturned vis-a-vis resolving this issue. We will definitely work whole-heartedly to remove the obstacles in the way of mining resumption”.
Modi’s statement was in response to a three-day protest by the state’s mining workers, represented by the Goa Mining People’s Front (GMPF), in New Delhi.
The case was originally scheduled to be heard in the Supreme Court again on April 15th but was subsequently delayed indefinitely.
In a move that could also tilt the vote in favour of the Congress, the opposition party also has the support of Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), the BJP’s former ally, in the Lok Sabha elections.
“This election, the anger of the mining community will decide the fate of the politicians,” Puti Gaonkar, the President of the GMPF, told the Hindu yesterday. He further added that the BJP was in favour of prolonging the ban in order to auction the leases to big corporations like Jindal Steel and Adani.
In February 2019, Gaonkar also told the Press Trust of India that the Congress would have resolved the mining crisis had it been in power.
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