Community in Focus: Goenchi Mati Movement
The Goenchi Mati Movement is a citizens’ initiative that aims to preserve Goa’s ancestral wealth for future generations.
Mining has been going on in Goa for over a hundred years, but it only really gained momentum at the turn of the millennium – when the burst of development in China caused global ore prices to skyrocket. This was followed by a mad rush among mining companies to extract as much of it as possible for profit. The ore, however, was extracted at the expense of several environmental and mining laws. Many individuals and NGOs, including the Goa Foundation, filed PILs challenging these illegalities. These PILs got the government to pay attention and set up the Shah Commission to investigate the allegations.
The Shah Commission Report confirmed that all mining in Goa after November 22, 2007 had been conducted without valid licenses and leases. Charges included mining without a licence, mining outside the lease area, and forging or misusing valid transportation permits.
The report also posited that based on current reserves, and at the current rate of extraction, in 9 years the ore would deplete completely. This startling statistic impelled Goa Foundation into realising that a rehabilitative course of action was immediately required. This was the flashpoint of the start of the Goenchi Mati Permanent Fund.
I am in a small café just before a Goenchi Mati meeting, as Rahul Basu, one of the founding members of the movement, takes me through what the Goenchi Mati Permanent fund and the attached movement is about. There are two fundamental truths behind the movement:
- Minerals are part of the commons: they belong to the people, with the state as a trustee, or a custodian.
- Future generations should inherit what we inherited. We are simply custodians of the planet and natural resources.
The sudden loss of mineral ore got the people behind the movement to look for ways to preserve the capital gained out of mining for future generations. They found the solution in a World Bank report, where they discussed taking funds earned from minerals and putting it into a permanent fund, and then eventually paying it out to citizens as dividend. This would ensure that all capital gained from mineral sale was saved and preserved for future generations. This model has been successfully implemented in Alaska and other places around the world, previously. The Goa Foundation proposed this model for Goa and received approval from the Supreme Court, who ordered a permanent fund for Goa in accordance.
Of all such global permanent funds, this was the first one created via a judicial order. What made this extremely significant, Rahul explains, is that citizens in other states could cite this order as an example and demand a similar permanent fund to safeguard their mineral wealth. For example, now citizens in Chhattisgarh can ask their government to create a similar fund from their mining wealth.
Public data shows that for the eight-year period between 2004 and 2012, the State of Goa has received less than 5% of the value of its ore, after factoring all associated expenses in. The SC ordered that state should collect an additional 10% of the ore value for the permanent fund. This was definitely progress, but it wasn’t enough, Rahul points out. People were still not getting the actual value of the ore. They realised that a strong people’s movement was necessary to spread awareness on this issue and to put pressure on the government to recover the funds. This was the genesis of the Goenchi Mati Movement.
To get a better understanding of the figures involved, GMM studied mining giant Sesa Goa’s annual reports. In the eight years prior to the Shah Commission verdict, Sesa exported 88 thousand crores worth of ore. 54 thousand crore was the after-expense value of the minerals. 31 thousand crores was the total cost of extraction, and three thousand crores Sesa’s absolute profit. Ideally, the state should have got 54 thousand crores but Rahul clarifies that the state received a meagre 2.5 thousand crores. A little more went to the centre as taxes and the mining companies made 32 thousand crores as extra profit.
To put this into perspective, in that same period, our entire state budget was 27 thousand crores. If we look at it in another way, we individually lost 2.7 lakhs. My head buzzes with these numbers. This is a serious amount of money. Rahul then further contextualises this figure by explaining that if this money actually went into a permanent fund, then every person in the state of Goa would get a dividend of a thousand rupees every months for the rest of their lives.
“Why didn’t the government do anything about this?” I ask, astounded. He breaks it down for me and tells me that the SC stated that the last 5 years of mining were illegal. Illegal mining is nothing short of theft. In a scenario like this, you either give the mineral back or give back its value. GMM wrote to the government, asking them to follow the letter of the law and recover the funds. The authorities responsible, however, backdated the leases and renewed them, legalising everything retroactively. The state lost 65 thousand crores in revenue owing to this unscrupulous behaviour.
The only way to recover these funds, Rahul opines, is for citizens to protest. For that to happen, people need to be aware of the situation. The biggest challenge GMM faces is irregularity of coverage. Rahul feels that the movement does not have a strong enough campaign to communicate the message clearly. He points out how this coverage is accessible to only the affluent, English-speaking section of society and rues the lack of a local connect. He wants the movement to have volunteers from villages who can go and confidently speak in Konkani and Marathi and build awareness.
The movement must reach everyone, especially those who have never given mining any thought so that they know that it affects them and their offspring, regardless. He also holds funds circulated through mining responsible for increasing corruption in the state.
In the run up to the state assembly elections, the Goenchi Mati Movement organised a citizens’ meeting in Panjim to release their manifesto . The manifesto stated objectives of the movement, an action plan, and steps to take.
Rahul enforces the point that the manifesto contains practical and rational solutions to mining-related conundrums, designed to benefit all stakeholders. Mining doesn’t have to stop, it just has to sustainable. From just an idea, the movement has to become a real and tangible solution.
Rahul is working hard to push the idea behind a permanent fund and a citizens’ dividend all over India. He strongly feels that the bigger the movement becomes, the more coverage it will garner. Exposure will bring people involved the strength and courage to fight. There’s an all India petition online that citizens can sign to show their support and belief in this idea.
In order for the movement to be successful people have to come out and embrace the idea. Unless Goans put pressure on the politicians to take action against erring mining companies, the illegalities will continue. We Goans have to have a strong sense of ownership with our minerals just like we do with our property. We have to treat it as our inheritance that we need to pass down to future generations.