Elections ahead, Congress, BJP reach out to mining lobby (Goa Newsletter)

Panaji, Jan 28 (IANS) And suddenly illegal mining no longer seems to be a major poll issue in Goa!

The mega illegal mining scam, which had rocked the state for over two years, has suddenly disappeared from political consciousness in Goa, which goes to the polls to elect a new government March 3.
Both the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which shrilly took up the scam mantra, and the ruling Congress, at the receiving end of the accusation, have this fortnight welcomed into their respective folds those allegedly involved in the mining illegalities or are at least sympathetic towards the malaise.
Former national secretary of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Jitendra Deshprabhu was welcomed into the Congress on Jan 16 by state Congress president Subhash Shirodkar. Deshprabhu had been arrested for illegal mining of iron ore on Aug 4 last year and released on bail subsequently.
Admitting Deshprabhu into the Congress fold, Shirodkar said the party high command in Delhi had agreed to the tainted leader’s inclusion in the party and that the state unit had nothing to do with it.
“The high command has taken all that into consideration before inducting him in,” he said, adding that law would be allowed to take its course in the illegal mining case.
Deshprabhu had been arrested after the state government’s mining and geology department complained that the former NCP leader owed the Goa government Rs.1.7 crore for the illegal excavation of bauxite. Deshprabhu is now hoping for a Congress ticket to the Porvorim assembly seat, which was newly created post delimitation.
If the Congress – whose leaders, including Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, have been on the receiving end of the illegal mining allegations – is complicit, aggressor BJP has suddenly and conspicuously lowered its “anti illegal mining” chorus as election campaigning gears up.
In fact, the BJP in the last one week has gone a step ahead and inducted two local strongmen, both of whom are heavily linked to the mining lobby.
One of them, Nilesh Cabral, who is setting himself up for the BJP ticket in the Curchorem constituency, a mining hub in south Goa, 50 km from here, even admitted that there was nothing wrong in “harvesting” existing mountainous dumps of mining ore. This was specifically banned by both the union ministry for mines as well as the Goa government.
“I don’t see what the problem is in moving dumps. Dumps are an eyesore. We are only moving them. Removing dumps is not illegal. In fact we are doing a good thing,” said Cabral, during his induction into the BJP.
Last year, the Goa government had started reinforcing a ban on harvesting of existing mining ore dumps after a probe revealed that a huge chunk of Goa’s illegal exported ore was sourced from such dumps, scattered across the state’s mining areas, and were harvested illegally by iron ore contractors.
Cabral, who also owns mining river barges as well as a fleet of heavy trucks for ore transportation, said he was a mining engineer, who “naturally” entered the mining industry. “I am a mining engineer I went into mining. Civil engineers go into construction,” he said.
On Wednesday (Jan 25), the BJP also welcomed Ganesh Gaonkar, a heavyweight in mining ore transportation.
Asked if the party’s fight against illegal mining was on, in light of two mining contractors into the party fold, state BJP president Laxmikant Parsenkar said: “We are very clear. We are against illegal mining. But we support mining that is legitimately done.”
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at [email protected])