Panaji, Oct 27: Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar is fast running out of a buffer, as far as the benefit of doubt is concerned.
Parrikar was elected with a landslide victory in March after leading a sustained five-year campaign against illegal mining and corruption as an opposition leader.
However, Parrikar’s decision to opt for only a kilometre of buffer zone around the wildlife sanctuaries in Goa is now being termed as “surrender” to the mining lobby by civil society activists and the opposition.
There are nearly 15 mines within one km of Goa’s six wildlife sanctuaries, while 40 mining operations are located within three km of these protected areas.
“Location of mines within three kilometres is perfect. But mining within one kilometre of protected areas is damaging to wildlife because mining by itself is a very polluting industry,” environmentalist Ramesh Gauns told IANS.
“We must put the wildlife and forest sectors in order. We owe it to the flora and fauna which have been pillaged by the mining companies for decades now,” he added.
As an opposition leader, Parrikar held the then Digambar Kamat government to ransom over issues related to destruction of wildlife and flora due to indiscriminate mining activity.
However as chief minister, his inability to act against mining companies responsible for the Rs.35,000 crore illegal mining scam exposed by the Justice M.B. Shah commission, now has Congress dubbing him an “employee of the mining companies”.
Reginaldo Lourenco, a spokesperson for the Congress Legislative Party (CLP), said that Parrikar’s decision to propose a one-km buffer zone to the central government was shameful defiance of his late friend and cabinet colleague Mathany Saldanha’s wish.
“It is well known that the late Matanhy Saldanha had demanded a five-km buffer zone around wildlife sanctuaries to protect the fragile ecology and environment around the mining areas of Goa,” Lourenco said.
Saldanha’s wife and Forest Minister Alina, who was inducted into the cabinet following her husband’s death, opposes Parrikar’s recommendation.
“As a forest minister, I feel that the buffer zone should be two kilometres for the protection of flora and fauna of the state. We are not the last generation to live on this earth. We should protect the environment for future generations,” Alina said.
Rajendra Kerkar, who has been fighting against illegal mining for several years now, claims that the Goa government had to rethink its proposal to the central government.
“The rise in man-animal conflicts shows how much we have encroached into their space. To set things right, we must have a bigger zone as a buffer between wild animals and us,” Kerkar said.
The Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association (GMOEA) has also criticised the chief minister’s decision.
“Given the contiguity of forest land due to the topography of Goa, the cabinet’s decision to demarcate eco-sensitive buffer zones of 100 metres to one kilometre around wildlife sanctuaries and national parks will have an adverse socio-economic impact in these regions,” it said in a statement.
There are six wildlife sanctuaries and one national park in Goa, nearly all of which are ringed by mining operations. All of them have been indicted by the Shah Commission for carrying out illegal mining.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at .email@example.com)