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Livelihoods snatched, Goa mining belt untouched by poll fever

Mining belt in North Goa, which was once buzzing with activity, seems impervious to the high-octane election campaign steered by BJP and Congress as people are more concerned about resumption of mining which was their major source of livelihood.

The long stretches of tarred roads in the mining belt of Bicholim and Sattari talukas now wear a deserted look as people and vehicles hardly use them since mining was banned by the Supreme Court in 2012.

‘Election doesn't seem to enthuse anyone. People will vote for those whom they feel like voting. Everyone is busy asking a question 'when will mines start'. No one is interested in politics,’ said Suresh Desai, a senior pro-mining leader from Sattari's Honda village.
Life has come to standstill in this iron ore-rich belt where rag-to-riches stories are abound.
Desai's father Venkatesh Desai had served as Panchayat Minister in Congress regime and is now rubbing shoulders with the Communists in their fight to resume mining under the aegis of 'Goa Mining People's Front'.
‘No one is interested in elections. Whoever assures to start the mining activity can chance a vote,’ said a retired teacher from Sattari.
‘It's simple, whoever starts my truck can get my vote,’ he said summing the mood among locals.
Long queues of trucks parked along roadside, shops doing scarce business and people refusing to move out of their houses in scorching heat mirror the ground reality in this mining hotbed from where the last load of iron ore was exported way back
in September 2012.

‘People have now channelised their fortunes to matka gambling where they expect to strike gold so that they can earn,’ said Dayanand Narvekar, an independent candidate, back from touring the constituency which comprises twenty Assembly segments.
‘The scene in this belt is totally dark,’ said Narvekar, who had chaired the state Legislative Assembly's Estimates Committee in 2008-09 which had predicted the bad scenario about illegal mining that is currently witnessed here.
As earnings from mining industry have withered away, the economic activity here is thinning out. An indicator to this effect is low demand for booze.

‘Spending a few thousands bucks for drinks was not a big deal during heydays here. Currently, liquor shops do only 25 per cent of total business. And that too, people opt for cheaper whisky or country liquor...There is no demand for high priced one,’ said Gajanand Naik, who owns a liquor shop in Velguem village.

He, however, conceded that liquor business has somewhat gone up during election season.BJP has fielded its sitting MP Shripad Naik against Congress' Ravi Naik for the 12 April poll.Both the parties, however, claim they will be able to win support of voters in the mining belt.
‘The state government has implemented schemes to help people affected by mining ban which will garner votes for the party candidates,’ said BJP leader Pramod Sawant.

State unit Congress president John Fernandes on the other hand blamed chief minister Manohar Parrikar for ‘closure’ of mining activity. ‘People are well aware about the face behind closure of the mining activity,’ he said.
During the campaign, Congress plays a CD of Parrikar's interview to a television channel wherein he purportedly claimed credit for shutting the mining industry, to convince people to vote against BJP.
However, voters in the mining belt are keeping their cards close to their chest and are weary of revealing their political affiliations even as
electioneering is at its peak.
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