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Environment Ministry, a major threat to India’s environment

Written By Gopal Krishna on Monday, February 04, 2008 | 3:18 AM

Environment Ministry, a major threat to India’s environment

New Delhi: The Goa Foundation addressed a press conference today in order to convey its demands that the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, stop granting further environment clearances for iron ore mines in Goa. The issue of these clearances has become a major environmental scandal that needs to be thoroughly probed. The Foundation is also demanding review of the 70-odd environment clearances granted by the Ministry.

The Foundation had petitioned the Supreme Court in 2004 that 70 odd mines in Goa (in addition to several industries all over the country) were being operated without environment clearances required under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

After the Supreme Court passed an order closing down these mines, the lease-holders approached the Ministry of Environment and Forests for environment clearances. Instead of using the opportunity to enforce its environment regulations and impose conditions on these mining activities, the Ministry sought instead to support the mining lobby by speeding up the process of these clearances. Practically all the mines were granted environment clearances en masse within a short span of two years. Expert committees appointed to evaluate mining proposals were not permitted to visit any of the mines. Eventually, all the environmental clearances were issued without a single site inspection.

Goa’s iron ore mines have been implicated over the past several decades in large scale destruction of forests in the ecologically sensitive area of the Western Ghats, degradation of agricultural fields, widespread pollution of water bodies and rivers and sedimentation of the large Mandovi and Zuari estuarine eco-systems. Mining activities have been responsible for gross damage to wildlife sanctuaries, disruption of water sheds, generation of dust and noise pollution, destruction of public roads and tremendous increase in the number of recklessly driven overloaded trucks on Goan village roads, turning the lives of people in mining villages into an endless nightmare.

Despite this, not a single mining project was halted or stopped by the Ministry. On the contrary, mines with the worst environment records, those closest to wild life sanctuaries, those with criminal records, were able to successfully procure environment clearances and temporary working permits ahead of others.

Not only were these environment clearances granted without physically inspecting these areas but the records of the public hearings conducted in Goa were not placed before the EIA Committees. Believing that through the public hearings they would be able to convey the sufferings they had endured due to mining activity, large numbers of village folk had turned up at each of the hearings to petition the government against granting environment clearances for several of the problem mines. All their efforts went to nought as their grievances never reached the EIA committee. The EIA committee was instead permitted to hear only the presentations made by the mine owners who gave it false and incorrect information which was not verified by any official from the State of Goa.

The environment scandal of Goa has now been documented in the form of a book called Goa: Sweet Land of Mine, copies of which are being released to the press today. The entire report can be down loaded from the Goa Foundation website at www.goacom.org/goafoundation

The book contains a map giving the location of more than 700 mining leases granted in the state of Goa more than 50 years ago by the former colonial Portuguese regime and that are being unquestioningly accepted by the Indian Government as legitimate approvals. None of these leases was granted by the Portuguese after considering its impact on groundwater, forest, wildlife, village communities, etc. Not only was environment consciousness absent then, the colonial power could scarcely have been expected to display any concern about the welfare of the people of what was then a conquered territory. That the Environment Ministry could, in this day and age, and despite the abysmal environment records of these mines, nevertheless blithely grant them clearances from the environment angle is too shocking for words.

The Goa iron ore environment clearance scandal conclusively proves that this Environment Ministry itself has become a major threat to India’s environment.
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