PANAJI: A division bench of the Bombay High Court at Goa today issued notice on a batch of three PILs challenging the decisions of the Goa government to go ahead with the mineral auctions for Mining Blocks I, II and III in Sirigao village, Bicholim taluka.
The petitions also challenge the Letters of Intent issued to the three new successful bidders: Vedanta Ltd., Salgaoncar Shipping Co. Pvt.Ltd., and M/s Rajaram Bandekar (Sirigao) Mines Pvt Ltd. Earlier lease-holders of these leases have been made respondents as well.
The first petition has been filed by the principal deity of the Shri Devi Lairai Temple herself through the President of the Shri Devi Lairai Temple trust and by villagers of Sirigao on behalf of the village and villagers of Sirigao. The villagers include Suresh Govind Gaonkar, Vijay Ravalnath Gaonkar, Dinanath Shamba Gaonkar, Krishna Raya Gaonkar and Ganesh Chandrakant Gaonkar, all from Sirigao village.
The Devi Lairai deity and Sirigao villagers have contended that mining activity has been carried out in the village environment for a period exceeding 50 years till it was halted by the Supreme Court in October 2012. The earlier leases granted to Resp.No.4 which came to an end in 2007 were granted by the Portuguese through a manifest that did not include any Survey Nos. Thereafter, the position of the mining leases vis-à-vis the village settlement of Sirigao and the Devi Lairai temple became known to the authorities.
The primary grievance of the petitioners is that the village settlement including the Devi Lairai temple, the homes, the schools, fields are all included within the boundaries of the mining blocks auctioned, and that the government, when deciding on the boundaries of the mining blocks, did not apply its mind nor did it consider the unmitigated havoc caused by mining operations on the erstwhile mining leases during their earlier life or the fact that none of it had been remedied.
It is on record through the NEERI report that the three lease-holders bankrupted the complete water supply of the village, permanently damaged more than80 ha of agricultural lands, destroyed all village grazing lands, and left the village with only one water tank (Dhonachi Talli) which is used for villagers who come for the Sirigao zatra.
The grant of fresh mining block in relation to the same area is therefore the height of irresponsibility on the part of the department.
The PILs demand that the entire settlement of Sirigao including 17 temples be excluded from the 3 mining blocks, and that no mining should be allowed to restart until the village environment damaged over 50 years is rehabilitated.