Mining activities have “crossed the social and environmental carrying capacity of this small state,” the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel observed (WGEEP) in its report.
The panel also suggested that “ecologically sensitive areas/zones should be excluded from mining. No mining should be allowed in the Western Ghats in Goa in national parks and wild life sanctuaries and regions of high sensitivity as demarcated by the panel.”
“All environmental clearances for mines in these areas should have an additional conditionality requiring 25 per cent reduction in mining every year till 2016, when mining has to be stopped in Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) 1 and environmental rehabilitation of the mined area post closure. In ESZ 2, current mining may be allowed but no new mining licenses should be granted until the conditions in the mining regions improve,” it suggested.
The panel, headed by Madhav Gadgil, has also recommended to “close all mines that have been extracting ore beyond limits allowed by environmental clearance given, as evident from data available with WGEEP.” While suggesting the introduction of “an iron ore content cut off for iron ore extraction that reflects environmental and social concerns,” it also proposed the cancellation of “all working leases by 2016 and non-working leases immediately in ESZ1s.”
It also called for the permanent cancellation of mining leases in wildlife sanctuaries and the catchment area of dams used for drinking water. “While mines may be closed, the leases in Goa are still showing them as existing mines. Hence, they must be terminated. Any orders passed by the Collector and Revenue Officer excluding any of these mines from the Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary to be cancelled,” it said.
While noting that the “total failure to implement the community forest resources provisions of Forest Rights Act in Goa has absolutely no justification,” it also pointed out the case of Devapon Dongar mine of Caurem village in Quepem taluk which was located on a hill sacred to the Velips, a Scheduled Tribe group. The report termed the accordance of sanction for “a mine on this hill against serious local opposition, and without completing the implementation of FRA is thoroughly inexcusable.”
Illegal mining is observed “in terms of no clearances obtained, fraudulent Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) and /or flouting of conditions of environmental clearances. The Panel has obtained a list of mines that are flouting environmental conditionalities in terms of extracting ore beyond output limits,” the report said. The panel also observed that that “most mining leases are located in and around Wildlife Sanctuaries and forest areas.” According to the report, there were “31 leases within 2 km of WLS, of which 7 are working mines; 13 leases are within 1 km of WLS. Evidence of some mines operating illegally within WLS also exists.”
On the loss of forest tracts in the State, the panel said that “Goa has lost 2500 hectare of forest area to mining between 1988 and 1997. No studies to assess the loss in forest area in the Western Ghats have been done since then. Forests are practically non-existent in some parts of the Bicholim taluka where mining has been in operation since the late 1940s.”
“In parts of Sattari and Sanguem talukas, forests are affected in mining villages. Biodiversity loss associated with the land use and cover change resulting from mining operation in the region is very serious,” it reported.
The panel observed that “loading jetties of the barges are right on the river bank resulting in surface water pollution during loading and unloading operations.”