Carmen Miranda of the Save Western Ghats campaign, interviewed by Devika Sequeira of Deccan Herald.
Your group lobbied strongly with Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to set up the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel. What do you think can be achieved by the panel hearings?
The challenge for the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) to come up with a list of eco-sensitive no go areas holds special significance and it is for the panel to factor in possible political interventions for being firm on its decision.
Unless it is as firm as the Saxena committee has been in the Niyamgiri case in Orissa that led to the cancellation of mining by Vedanta, the MoEF will not be in a position to follow suit. We are working closely with WGEEP to ensure that it holds the cause of ‘environment’ supreme in its decision.
After all, the Western Ghats are a globally important biodiversity hotspot with a significant list of endemic flora and fauna species. New species are still being found, and a study of its rich biodiversity is far from being completed. Given the economic policy of ‘growth at all costs’ and pressures from a growing population, an important eco-sensitive region like the Western Ghats needs urgent legal measures for its protection.
In Karnataka, power projects and tourism development are seen as a major threat to the ecology of the region.
Since the revival of the Save Western Ghats campaign, the core group has been working with a clear strategy and action plan which also involves the sensitisation of politicians and governments. It is difficult to convince industrialists and politicians that the need to protect the environment is not anti-development but crucial to sustaining development.
So what has been your strategy?
One of the first things we did as a core group was to launch the first ever Citizen’s Green Manifesto for the Western Ghats to lobby MPs during the election campaign. As a result of our lobbying the WGEEP was set up.
The National Climate Change Commission and the Western Ghats Ecology Authority are next in the pipeline. We also managed to convince the ministry to impose a moratorium on new mining leases in Goa. So we haven’t done too badly so far, but this is probably because Jairam Ramesh was willing to listen to our concerns and suggestions and acted on what he deemed to be perfectly reasonable, useful and legitimate citizens’ demands.
The environment devastation caused by mining in Goa and the unbridled acceleration of ore extraction propelled by the China demand in the last five years cannot escape anyone.
If we are not careful, in the near future, people will have to go to China to visit Goa, as most of our land will be deposited there, leaving just a hole in the ground in Goa.
What angers me is the attitude of the Goa government and mining lobby, who think that they have a God-given right to destroy everyone else’s way of life and resources in Goa for the benefit of China and a handful of extremely rich mining barons.
It is a scandal that the minister for mines in Goa for the past 11 years belongs to a family of miners. If that is not conflict of interest, I don’t know what is. No wonder mining is out of control in Goa, and the damage in many areas is now irreversible. Goa today resembles the Wild West during the gold rush.
The only difference is that the cowboys here are running gigantic trucks in narrow rural roads and their bosses zoom around in expensive cars — the price of each would build schools and health centres and improve the standard of living of hundreds of families in Goa. Mining in Goa has to be controlled, downsized, regulated with an annual ore extraction cap immediately imposed, and phased out as soon as possible.
You’ve said unless people sit across a table to talk, nothing can be achieved. How do you expect such disparate groups as iron ore exporters and environment activists to find a meeting ground?
There was no constructive communication among the mining stakeholders and civil society until the first ever such meeting on 18th May in Goa earlier this year. The meeting was hosted by the MoEF and resulted in some follow-up action which is still inadequate in my opinion.
I am trying to ensure that a second such meeting will take place before the end of the year to take things forward, especially in terms of tougher action regarding compliance by the legal mines and eradication of illegal ones.