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Why the Tigers Must Die…

THE SUPREME COURT HAS CANCELLED LEASES OF 88 GOA MINES, BUT WHAT’S LEFT OF THE LAND THE BIG CAT CALLS HOME?

Optimists will tell you that you must be open to ‘negotiation’ when it comes to protecting the environment. Don’t see things in black and white, that’s passé. You need to be more ‘nuanced’, learn to give a little and take a little – only then can you tango your way to being a passionate advocate for this troubled and doomed Earth Mother and join the ranks of the Patron Saints of the Environment.

Nobody joins the dots any more. There’s no need to. The Left is Dead, Capitalism is Dead too, long live ‘Big Business for the Common Man’. A priori, it is now taken for granted that this much of the environment must go, junked for the larger good of the Human Being.

Forget about ‘ideology’, think of ‘dialogue’ instead.

Ideology after all is not a bunch of men in flared, starched shorts, singing ‘religious’ songs, making believe they are soldiers for the nation as they put us on the road to progress via the 13th century; or how under their protection, a bunch of saffron tinted goons can put Muslims and ‘low-caste’ Christians to sword for daring to eat old cattle for the cheap (and tasty) beef they provide.

Or because the government is chummy with some industrial conglomerates tarred with the same brush, ready to build roads, harbours without fishermen, and now carefully being facilitated to take over the world and make India great again. Ideology is dead and buried. It has nothing to do with a minuscule population in this country enjoying disproportionate assets of wealth while many, many more people in this country struggle to put a second meal on the cow-dunged floor in front of their hearth.

Do the optimists really need to read an Oxfam report to feel sheepish, and perhaps a little shame?

And who, may I ask, will speak for the tiger, that beast we are all concerned about because it’s good for our global image. The true-blue Raja is definitely TV worthy, with every newsworthy anchor worth his or her salt, rushing to join the queue for a sound ‘bite’ on the tiger’s neck.

Do they really speak for ‘wild’ life?

See a tiger cub, hiding behind his dazed mother, frightened out of it wits by our notions of development – because little tigers too need to ‘make sense’ of the world around them  – and imagine what the cub, or its mother, will make of the loud, shrieking, smoke-bellowing  bulldozers, or giant, trundling  earth-movers with  huge claws, or tall, slender Caterpillars with strong, assured tongues, willing to lick the earth into the desired shape.

For the optimists of the earth, the Patron Saints of the Environment, this is paying attention to the distorted nature of a ‘partial victory’. The stress is on victory, the ‘partial’ aspects, the crumbs you leave for the tiger cubs. “The government-industry combine only took x-x-x hectares,” we will be told as they palliate the easy chicanery practised, “when they had demanded x-x-x hectares!!”

This translates into an eight-lane highway right through thick forest with a lot of non-human life. Tiger cubs and their parents severed from their traditional routes to food, water and their centuries old ways of socialising life, is that even a problem??

Optimists and Patron Saints in Goa came out of the woodwork on Wednesday, February 7, 2018, after hearing the news that the Supreme Court had disparaged 88 mining leases granted by the Goa government.

This was the court’s response to a PIL filed by Goa Foundation in 2015, represented by the eminent lawyer, Prashant Bhushan. Optimists cheered. Bhushan, on behalf of the same NGO client had demanded a few years earlier, 50% of mining profits to accrue to a people’s fund. Of course following the logic of a partial victory, they downplayed that figure substantially when it was time to renew the leases, but that is neither here nor there.

What is pertinent is that now we have two ‘Funds’ pertaining to mining, and supposedly geared to the future of this tiny state –  the Goa Foundation’s Goenchi Mati Fund, and the government’s Goa Mineral Ore Permanent Fund. Which is the real ‘Mud Fund’ that will make every Goan richer by some Rs 400,000 its proponents say, after we recover the loot of course?

The mining will continue was the Foundation’s reading, a decision it must be said taken arbitrarily. They argued, yet again, that the Goa  government take the auction route instead of renewing the permits.

The term ‘auction route’ is what has got the Goan upper caste mining lobby’s knickers in a twist. With the Dempo family jettisoning its operations to the behemoth Vedanta, those on the rack were the other mining families, Salgaocars, Timblos and Chowgules and the other upstarts like Dinar Tarcar.

While the Goa Foundation’s supremo, Claude Alvares, intent on filling the coffers of the Goenchi Mati Fund, stressed that the mining families would not get ‘free’ leases but would have to compete with national players paying five times the fees, the government did not tuck its tail and run.

Chief minister Manohar Parrikar was quick to point out that the union government, in 1987, converted mining ‘concessions’ into mining ‘leases’, a decision challenged in the Supreme Court. “The Court should have decided on that case first,” Parrikar told the press, “as that is an older case”.

Not to be left out, on Friday, February 9, Sadanand Malik, a former MLA was to use the local paper to pen an article titled “Why it’s not possible to auction mining leases in Goa”. Vijay Sardesai, town and country planning minister, member of the turncoat Goa Forward Party that backed the BJP after campaigning against them, perhaps best exemplifies the jingoism creeping in, even as he welcomed the court’s decision. “The frightening scenario,” he said, “is the new procedure may lead to the Indianisation of Goa’s mining industry allowing bidder from outside to not only take over our mines but all related ancillary trades.”

A day later, warmed up you could say, Sardesai was to vent his ire some more on ‘indianisation’ at the Goa Biz Fest, saying that domestic tourists visiting Goa were the “scum of the earth”. “We cannot make Goa another Gurgaon,” he told his audience, “the north Indian states are responsible for the problems that Goa has today. The people coming from those state actually want to recreate Haryana in Goa”.

By Saturday, February 10, news on the front pages, of course, had nothing about the mining. Pessimists would say that this is the Goan foxtrot, two steps forward and four steps back.

It is possible that my opening gambit of pessimism is due to being  back in Goa, not that far as a bird flies from the Dinar Tarcar mine in Quepem taluka wondering how the man came back, his mining operation given a new front. Guess he’s well connected. Family ties, what not!

Maybe my pessimism, brought on by a tiger cub, is thanks to PrernaBindra, whose recent book, “The Vanishing”, a searing narrative on what this country is doing to its wildlife, I have been reading. I don’t know whether she’s an optimist because for all the hope she has that this country will change, there are painful ruptures in her narrative.

She’s a friend of Goa though, which is more that you can say about most Goans. One paragraph stays in my head – the new hastily conceived Mopa airport that Goa does not need, and which will carve out thick forested ghat and a magnificent plateau. Prime minister Modi laid the foundation stone in November 2016 from a de-contextualised football stadium. “In laying that stone”, Prerna writes, “the prime minister endorsed not just a shoddy EIA report, but also sent a message that wildlife, environment and people’s concerns are of little consequence in the trajectory of India’s economic growth….”

Perhaps it is time for the Patron Saints of the Environment to atone?

 

The author was Features Editor of Patriot, and is the writer of “Eat Dust — Mining and Greed in Goa”