We are in serious trouble
The members of the Goa Barge Owners’ Association don’t have much to smile about these days. Business, they say, has dwindled down so drastically ever since the anti-mining furor in the state and the subsequent recommendations of the Shah Commission that if the trend continues much longer, they will soon have to retrench staff and eventually maybe even shut shop. The members of the association recently associated with a day long protest organised by the supporters of mining in the city. Barges were anchored in the Mandovi river thus blocking traffic on the river channel.
The Justice Shah Commission’s recommendations to ban exports of ore from Goa and the consequent shutting down of illegal mines may have come as a huge relief to the anti-mining protesters. On the flip side, there are many like these barge owners whose livelihood depends on the operations of mines. They are not the only ones being affected. There are approximately 7000 barge crew members and about 30,000 ancillary jobs like barge repair, logistics, surface transport, administration, etc who will also be adversely affected by this ban.
The barge owners are worried on many fronts, chief among them being the dwindling down of income due to lesser trips being made and their inability to repay the massive loans they’ve incurred in purchasing the barges. “Our industry is in serious trouble. There are about 400 barges engaged in ferrying iron ore cargo from its loading points to the ports in Panjim and Marmugoa. As it is, the plight of barge owners is extremely vulnerable as the number of trips per barge per month has dropped. With restrictions, mining ore export are expected to reduce from 54.5 million tonnes in 2010-2011 to below 35 million tonnes in 2011-2012. With a further drop in the trips, barge owners will not even be able to meet operating costs like wages, fuel, etc. Already, there is a backlog of wage payment since October. We may soon have to resort to large scale retrenchment of crew members. If the current situation doesn’t improve, it will present a huge socio-economic upheaval. Bankruptcy and a consequent defaulting in repayment of the massive loans raised by the owners may give rise to an unintended banking crisis,” says Atul V Jadhav, President, Goa Barge Owners’ Association.
So what are the barge owners demanding via the protest?
Chief among their demands is the amendment or revocation of the September 27, 2011 order by the Directorate of Mines and Geology which will allow exports of the ore dumps of mining rejects. “For every one tonne of ore, there are three tons of rejects. If they are not exported, they will end up being dumped in the fields and rivers. However, if the government allows for these mining rejects to be exported, it will generate enough cargo for the barges to operate and thus, survive,” Atul explains.
They are also demanding the cancellation of the buffer zone for mining, a freeze on registrations of any new barges and the freezing of the Barge tax or Goods tax for one year. “We also want the Goa government to prepare a proper representation about why legal mining should be allowed and how much of Goa’s economy is dependent on the operations of these legal mines. That apart, we want the government to put in place adequate legal procedures and machinery to properly monitor and regulate mining activities,” he says.
Commenting about the apathy being shown by the government to resolve the situation, Atul says, “The mining industry is a revenue earner for the government of Goa. It raises Rs 950 crores in royalty and an additional Rs 400-500 crores in the form of the various duties and taxes. If mining is banned, where will the government get the money for all its schemes and to pay the salaries of all the public servants in its employment?”