Panaji, April 25 (IANS) Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar wants to “save” the Western Ghats, but not at the cost of mining. Parrikar underscored the sentiment in an official letter written to the union environment and forests minister last week but which became known only a few days after a crucial Supreme Court judgement lifting a 19-month ban on mining in the state.
The letter asks the ministry to withdraw its draft notification on the recommendations of a High-Level Working Group (HLWG) headed by K. Kasturirangan on the Western Ghats and the findings of the Madhav Gadgil-led Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel.
“If the restrictive recommendations contained in the report, ignoring the local constraints are accepted, it is bound to adversely impact mining completely in the state of Goa; thus ruining the economy of the state and unleashing deprivation due to loss of income opportunity and employment leading to below pay living standards, thereby causing protest and dissent,” Parrikar has said in his letter to Environment Minister Veerappa Moily.
The Supreme Court, in a visionary judgment Monday while lifting the ban on mining in Goa, also tried to goad the state government into ensuring that it takes the best care of the environment, especially in the mining belt, where it has been ravaged over the years. While lifting the ban in general, the apex court has specifically banned over 30 mines operating in close proximity of Goa’s numerous wildlife sanctuaries nestled in the Western Ghats.
Rampant illegal mining encouraged by successive governments across political dispensations have led to large-scale encroachment and denudation in the Goa section of the Western Ghats region, which incidentally, even Parrikar’s letter admits, is second only to the Eastern Himalayas in its biodiversity.
The Western Ghats are a Unesco-recognized Natural Heritage Site comprising a contiguous forested mountain range that stretches from Kerala to southern Gujarat.
The BJP’s Parrikar, who is being seen as close to the mining lobby, has backed “sustainable” mining in the Western Ghats in his letter, arguing that mining has been going on since the colonial Portuguese era and that it was a mainstay of the state’s economy.
“It generates a revenue of Rs.1,200 crore ($196 million) per year; and directly and indirectly employs over a lakh (100,000) persons in various activities associated with mining and export of iron ore,” Parrikar said, while also making a point for the heavy mining machinery, transport and ore export lobbies.
Parrikar has also accused Moily’s ministry of indulging in an armchair exercise by issuing the draft notification and imposing itself on the state government without taking into account ground realities.
“The state government expresses its serious reservation and disagreement to the whole exercise and is not in a position to accept the recommendation made in the said report. We feel integrating the needs of development with the desire to protect environment for sustainable development has to be the key feature of the conservation strategy for the Western Ghats,” Parrikar said.