ISM looks at answers to Goa mining woes

A group of research scholars and professors from Indian School of Mines (ISM) has spotted adverse impacts on the environment in Goa due to mining, which was recently banned in the coastal state.

The Union ministry of environment and forests had awarded the study, which was begun a year before the Supreme Court ordered a ban on September 15, to the team of two professors and eight research scholars of the Dhanbad institute.

Professor Gurdeep Singh, who is leading the team in the Rs 2.02-crore project, told The Telegraph: "Our study will help to create a baseline to help sustainable industrialisation or mining in the region."

He added they had identified major spots hit by water and air pollution such as the picturesque Salaulim Dam, whose water is also used for drinking.

"We observed that the level of manganese is 5 milligram per litre in the dam water, which is much more that than the permissible limit of 01 mg/litre. This can create itchiness in the eyes and other problems."

He pointed out that the mining areas are mostly located far from tourist spots in Goa, which attracts around 14 lakh visitors annually. "But in some cases, the buffer zones between mining and tourist areas are not expansive enough."

Besides, much pollution is also caused by long-distance transportation of iron ore to the Mandovi and Zuari rivers and their 14 tributaries as the routes cross villages. "We have also suggested the creation of a transport corridor in our report that we are still preparing," said Singh, adding water pollution was also caused due to transportation of the ore from rivers to the coast for export to countries such as China, Mongolia and Indonesia.

Asked, Singh said the study focused on coastal Goa might not have direct relevance for landlocked Jharkhand, but argued that the precautionary measures the team was working on for sustainable mining could apply to the iron ore-rich Singhbhum region.

Altogether 83 iron ore mines were operational in Goa before the apex court imposed the ban at the back of protests by local residents over pollution.

Singh said, "We began our study in September 2011, a year before mining was banned in Goa. Thus, we had collected necessary data with regard to the impact of iron ore mining on the environment over a year. The project report, titled Regional Environmental Impact Assessment and Management, will be ready by mid-2013, as the duration of the study is 18 months."

The study takes into account the air, water and land use pattern in Goa, spread over 3,702sqkm with a population of around 14 lakh, a significant part of which falls under forestland and eco-sensitive areas including six sanctuaries.

"We had to face certain difficulties also during our study initially, as the local people, around 4 lakh of who are dependent on mining, didn't co-operate with us," said Singh, adding that the residents later were convinced that the study was for their betterment.

"Unlike individual studies on one aspect of environment, ours is a holistic scrutiny of the impact of mining on environment, including air, water and soil pollution," he added.

Interestingly, the residents also sympathise with the mine owners as a lot of socio-economic development is carried out in Goa by the companies including growth of popular football academies as well as hospitals.