When ethical and moral values are abandoned in favor of crass consumerism, immersion in total entertainment becomes the new normal. No wonder, little do those who throng the not-so-serene beaches to destress realize that the country’s pimple, as Nehru would call Goa, has been mercilessly squeezed of its natural assets. Consistent political patronage and persistent industrial greed has legitimized grossly reprehensible act of mining as the panacea to all ills. That this largely illegal act is making the land of ‘fish, curry and rice’ to eat dust seems a peripheral concern, if at all.
At this time when most Goans, like the exuberant middle class elsewhere, have allowed themselves to be wooed by the argument that industrialization is a prerequisite for sustaining the growth appetite, Hartman De Souza comes out with an investigative narrative on the organized loot that has flattened green hills and sucked live aquifers dry in Goa. In exporting 35 per cent of the country’s ore, mining has used 8 per cent of the state’s richest land mass, and returned just 4 per cent to its exchequer by pocketing the rest. ‘Eat Dust’ is a shocking revelation on the appropriation of the state’s economy by private interests who have steady access to the gatekeepers: those who hold state office, and those who could influence it on demand.
It is an environment thriller, loaded with extreme stories of treachery, gluttony and conspiracy. Ingrate politicians, conciliate bureaucrats and devious media form the familiar star cast, suitably supported by gullible landowners, petty businessmen and tongue-tied priests who create perfect playing ground for mining barons to carve out replica of Grand Canyon in the Western Ghats. Had it not been for the apex court putting a ban on mining in 2012, these actors would have stripped the state of its remaining estimated 1.3 billion tons of ore worth over US$ 6 billion.
Hartman’s chronicle is a factual blow-by-blow account of what actually happened on the ground – tracing the political route to the story from the time Goa’s first chief minister, Dayanand Bandodkar, was hand-picked to lead by mining companies, because they recognized both his acumen and his sympathy for their own greater cause. Since then the baton has remained in safe hands, proactive political collusion has perpetuated greed.
Not to be missed in this socio-anthropological and ecological history of Goa is the story of protracted opposition by handful men and women, who have taken the battle to the heavily guarded mines across the state. Despite intimidation by goons of the mining mafia with support from the local police, the mother-daughter duo of Dora and Cheryl had chained themselves when the barrier to the Dinar Tarcar’s mine was still down, to record their genuine anger against unscrupulous mining close to their habitation. Local opposition has only continued to grow, providing perfect backdrop to the activists pursuing legal proceedings against illegal mines.
Despite standing for, and contributing to opposition against illegal mining, the author laments the lack of mass upsurge against mining in Goa. Will people in Panjim understand how bad mining is only when they find red dust flowing out of their taps? It seems everyone has been poisoned by a uniform coat of dust, tossed up by the trucks plying ore from the mine to the harbor, that there is nothing that can stop the rot from spreading. On top of it, the mining mafia has carefully quashed any annoyance with promises that are partially fulfilled at any given time.
More than just hit-and-run kind of reporting ‘Eat Dust’ is courageous writing aimed at bringing information, details of which have either been hidden from the public or nobody had the courage to discover it in the first place. Written with painstaking details, Hartman has sunk his teeth deep into the story without allowing him to be bullied. What comes out is a narrative that smells of a strange mix of passion and anguish, uncovering the rot that plagues the mining sector – not only in Goa but in the rest of the country as well.
‘Eat Dust’ should be essential reading for all those who may have even an iota of interest in pretty trees, sparkling springs, and majestic tigers.
Eat Dust: Mining & Greed in Goa
by Hartman De Souza
Harper Litmus, New Delhi
Extent: 277, Price: Rs 350
This review was first published in The Hindustan Times on Jan 9, 2016.