`Western Ghats being handed over to mining barons`

A rampaging iron ore mining industry and colluding officials are behind the shocking exclusion of Goa`s forests from a cluster of 39 areas in the Western Ghats region.

Panaji: A rampaging iron ore mining industry and colluding officials are behind the shocking exclusion of Goa`s forests from a cluster of 39 areas in the Western Ghats region that were included this week in UNESCO`s World Heritage list, according to a leading green campaigner.

Carmen Miranda, former director of global social development agency Panos and a British citizen of Goan origin, who has been campaigning worldwide to end mining in Goa, said Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had been taking "disappointing" and "misguided" decisions as far as mining is concerned.

Miranda, who co-ordinates a global campaign amongst the Goan diaspora in 65 countries said that the reason why the state government and the mining industry conspired to deliberately leave Goa`s forests out of the protective heritage list was 745 million tons plus of iron ore on which the forests sit.

"The previous administration betrayed the people in many ways and presided over the biggest and quickest destruction of the environment in Goa in the past 10 years, executed by the mining industry and real estate developers. Their plan, I am quite sure, was to hand over the Western Ghats in a plate to the mining barons who for ages coveted the riches of our Ghats," Miranda told IANS in an interview.

The Western Ghats are a contiguous stretch of tropical forests spread across Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and are recognised as one of the top 10 global bio-diversity hotspots.

Miranda also said that while the Parrikar government had made some right moves, his disposition towards mining was queer.

"While Parrikar admittedly is doing some good things in Goa, his attitude towards the mining industry, so far, does not seem to be very different from the previous government. In fact, he is making some worrying misguided decisions about mining, which is very disappointing," said Miranda, who had submitted a petition to the government, with signatures of Goans across the globe seeking the inclusion of Goa`s forests in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Miranda said that she could still give the BJP-led coalition government the benefit of the doubt. "The new administration is just settling in. However, there was plenty of time for Parrikar to have given by now the `OK` to go ahead with the application. He was presented with a world petition signed by the Goan Diaspora from 65 countries, over two months ago," she said.

The activist said that UNESCO status to Goa`s forests would significantly guard the green areas against the mining scourge.

"The miners` supercilious attitude towards illegal expansion into the forested areas, which so far was done with impunity, will be curtailed by a UNESCO tag for our Western Ghats. The government will have to step up the conservation and protection of this region, as the eyes of the entire world community will be on it. The tag comes with tough obligations and responsibility," she said, adding that the Goa government still had time to catch the UNESCO boat until January 2013.

"All that needs to be done now is to lobby with Parrikar and (Forest Minister) Alina Saldanha to immediately give the department of forests the permission to go ahead and support the application. But the ground work and preparation must start immediately," she said.