Panaji: Even as pressure builds up on the BJP-led state government to resume mining and iron ore transportation after four years of inactivity, a brutal attack in judicial lock-up on a tribal activist opposing illegal ferrying of iron ore, has given fresh fodder to the opposition.
While the prison authorities have ordered an enquiry into the attack on Ravindra Velip at the Sada sub-jail late Wednesday, an elected panchayat representative from Cavrem-Pirla, the Congress and other opposition have now attacked the government for trying to browbeat activists in prison in connivance with the mining lobby.
Velip, resident of Cavrem-Pirla village, was arrested on Tuesday under sections 143 (unlawful assembly) and 341 (wrongful restraint) for blocking the transportation of iron ore, which was e-auctioned by the state government to a private ore trading company some months back.
“When I stepped out of Cell number 10, unknown persons threw a blanket on me and started beating me up. I have suffered from multiple fractures and internal injuries,” Velip told IANS after getting bail on Thursday.
“In the name of transporting e-auctioned ore, fresh illegal mining has started in mining leases near our village. We were questioning the police about the veracity of the iron ore being transported when we were arrested,” Velip said.
Speaking to IANS on Thursday, Inspector General of Prisons Elvis Gomes, who inspected the Sada sub jail in Vasco town, 35 kms from Panaji, confirmed that an enquiry had been ordered into the assault on Velip.
“The jailor has been asked to conduct a report and submit it as soon as possible,” Gomes told IANS.
Mining of iron ore and bauxite, a multi-billion dollar industry in Goa and one of the main stays of the state economy was halted in 2012 following a series of bans first by the state government, central government and then by the Supreme Court of India, following the expose of a Rs.35,000 crore illegal mining scam in which all major mining companies, politicians and bureaucrats were linked.
The apex court’s ban was lifted in 2014, a combination of procedural delays, prolonged process of renewal of mining leases by the state government and fall in the global market in the prices of iron ore meant that mining activity could not resume in full flow, resulting in simmering dissent in the mining belt, where four of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s 21 legislators are elected from.
During the period of the ban the Supreme Court had ordered e-auctioning of illegally mined iron ore in batches. Velip, who belongs to the Velip tribe, was arrested for allegedly obstructing movement of one of these batches of iron ore.
The assault on Velip on Wednesday however has got the opposition to attack the state government for trying to stifle protesting voices. The Congress has demanded a judicial probe into the attack.
“The Congress party condemns the attack on panch member and tribal leader Ravindra Velip. This heinous and cowardly attack proves that it has happened at the behest of the mining lobby in connivance with the government,” Congress spokesperson Avinash Tavares said.
He added that the attack was “part of a larger conspiracy to deny the constitutionally legitimate demand for village mining co-operative and to suppress the voice of tribal community and any anti-government protests in Goa”.
A spokesperson for the state department of mines and geology said that transportation of auctioned iron ore was legitimate activity.
“The transportation is of the e-auctioned iron ore only. We are monitoring and accounting for every ton of ore which is being ferried from the mining areas,” the spokesperson said.