There’s something about flowing water that makes the thoughts move in an orderly manner. It worked with Archimedes who sprang out of his bathtub stark naked and ran around screaming “Eureka”, while his spectators just said “euuuu”. I had a eureka moment the other day watching the barges sail with their small hills of iron ore pressing them low in the gently flowing Mandovi. There was one practically every seven minutes. They came back empty and I thought what a waste of fuel. It is the same with the trucks that carry ore from the mines to the barges ¬– they go back empty. Waste of fuel again. Then came the e-moment.
With all this building activity all over the coastal areas and the abandoned mining pits in the hills why not use builders and miners to undo the damage they are causing. Set up designated collection points for building rubble, broken glass, and anything that will not pollute ground water. Load the material onto the barges. The barges take the rubble to the loading point where machinery to lift the material into empty trucks is installed. The trucks carry the rubble to an abandoned pit within the mining lease property and dump it in. The barges would use a little more fuel than they would while plying empty as would the trucks. The setting up of collection points and automatic loading machinery would be expensive. But considering the crores that went down the drain with the drama at Sosoddo where Hyquip was paid so much taxpayer’s money for doing nothing. I am embarrassed to even put the figure down in print. The expense can be equally shared by the builders, the miners and the taxpayer.
Research on the Internet showed that the United States of America had rejuvenated and planted trees over abandoned mines, by first laying down a floor of approximately 5 metres of concrete and then dumping mixed waste into the pit. They layered it with mining reject soil added more waste, then capped the top with 2-3 metres of soil and greened vast swathes of land destroyed by the open cast mines.
I called up Digambar Kamat who besides being the chief minister also holds the Mining & Industries portfolio and he listened to my spiel first in a why-do-I-get-the-mad-women-calling-me manner then began listening carefully. He said after a brief silence, “Well, it’s not a bad idea. I will talk to people about this.”
Full of self-righteousness I shared my idea with the Man of the House who snorted and said, “Don’t be stupid. Building rubble is best dumped at the side of highways, so that it can be used to broaden them instead of cutting down hills to get mud and rocks. And you can’t drop plastic and batteries down abandoned mines because they go down below sea-level and ground water over five times the area will be contaminated.” I told him that the Americans laid a 5-metre thick concrete floor on their abandoned mines and got another snort, “You think our educated illiterates will do that?” But it can be done, I said. Got a snort for that too. “There is that woman professor from Nagpur who coverts all types of plastic waste into fuel with zero emission and sells to Indian Oil Corporation,” he said. “If our people were serious about getting rid of plastic they would have approached her company long ago.”
The plastic into fuel professor was Alka Zadgaonkar of Nagpur. I spoke to her husband who said it was a zero emission process and yes the fuel was bought by IOC among others and that they had sold the patent to one Shah based in Mumbai. Why did they sell it? Because we are R&D people and not entrepreneurs. Did their process have Central Pollution Control Board certification? They had Maharastra Pollution Control Board certification.
The next person to talk to was Claude Alvares of Goa Foundation who has received bouquets and brickbats in his fight for saving Goa’s Environment. He said my idea of using the barges and trucks was a workable one, but expensive in the long run because the mining industrialists are not interested in spending money only in making it. Also they refuse to close the abandoned mines because now there is a market for third-grade ore and they can mine those pits again. They will not allow waste to be dumped into their pits. Unless the government comes in hard and heavy and enforces existing laws and that won’t happen because our ministers and MLAs are part of the mining lobby.
But will it work, I asked. It could, he said, but I doubt it will happen.