Ravindra Velip, tribal activist and panch of Caurem village, was arrested on March 21 2016 along with other villagers, after they stopped trucks transporting ore from the Fomento-owned mine in the village. They were released on bail but arrested again the next day, when they once again stopped the trucks. Political parties, civil society groups and NGOs came down heavily on the Goa government after 26 March 2016, condemning the attack on Ravindra Velip while he was in judicial custody in Sada jail in south Goa. The Goa Foundation, an environmental NGO which has taken illegal mining in the state to the Supreme Court, demanded an inquiry by the Inspector General of Police (Prisons) into how unauthorised persons could enter the premises, blindfolded Velip and beat him up mercilessly. “The assault could only have been possible because of the collusion of the jail authorities. It was therefore premeditated,” Goa Foundation director Claude Alvares claimed, adding that the incident will delay total resumption of mining operations indefinitely. “Velip has consistently exposed illegalities committed by mining lease holders in Caurem. It was due to the efforts of his group that authorities located lakhs of tonnes of iron ore illegally extracted and hidden in artificial mountains under layers of mud after mining was suspended by the government,” Alvares said.
Vashuha Sawaiker is a social worker and a lawyer based in Goa who knows Ravindra Velip well. She reported that he and other villagers were arrested on the 22nd March, 2016 for protesting against illegal iron ore mining operations at the tribal village of Caurem in South Goa. The villagers were protesting against the illegal transportation of ore from TC Nos 6/61, 59/51 and 12/53 in Village Panchayat Caurem-Pirla, to hide evidence of illegal ore extraction before inventory is carried out by the Government, or independent agencies. On 23rd March 2016, while in Judicial Custody, Ravindra Velip was attacked by at least 4 persons, blindfolded and gagged, and beaten up and kicked mercilessly. He was lifted and thrown down from a height, resulting in multiple fractures to his forearm causing agonizing pain in his neck and the rest of his body. Ravindra had applied for the Small Research Grant Project instituted by Goa University and Centre for Studies of Developing Societies, New Delhi. His project was titled " Return to the Forests: A Report on Forest Rights of Caurem Village." Ravindra, a mechanical engineer, had come back to Goa from Mumbai, and had consistently exposed the illegalities of mining lease holders in Caurem. He had stood for Panchayat level elections and was working at Caurem village. It was due to efforts of his group that the authorities located lakhs of tonnes of iron ore illegally extracted and hidden after the closure of mining was announced by the State Government. He has been promoting and espousing the idea of village cooperatives being used exclusively for some of the activities relating to mining, from excavation to transport. This would directly benefit majority of the villagers who till now continue to suffer from the ill effects of mining activity. At the time of the agitation, Ravindra was also documenting the process by which Caurem villagers claimed their community forests rights. His group had worked towards activating the Forests Rights Committee and with the help of village elders and the use of GPS, the villagers had mapped the ancient village boundaries and filed for community forest rights. He was inspired by Madhav Gadgil's book, "Let Our Rightful Forests Flourish". Caurem happens to be the only village which has claimed rights over minor forests produce in the whole of Goa. Ravindra and his group of youth are an inspiration for youth in surrounding villages. Their Youth Group The Mallikarjun Art and Cultural Sports Club(MACS CLUB) of Caurem has a website http://caurem.weebly.com/ which has all the resources relating to Community Forests Rights, Mining and Cultural Practices of Tribals. He is a tactful community organiser and after having filed for community rights for his own village he had started helping neighbouring villages in filing for the same. This is not the first time that such an attack has been made on a youth in Caurem. In May 2011, Nilesh Gaonkar, another anti-mining activist from Caurem was attacked with an iron rod while on his way to work. In October 2013, the National Human Rights Commission directed the Goa government to pay monetary relief of Rs. 5000/- each to 737 villagers for police brutalities on protesting tribal villagers. This was a pre-planned attack to finish Ravindra and create a sense of terror in the minds of the protesting tribal villagers. The Fomento company has alleged that compensation payments have been made for loss of agricultural land. Meanwhile, the gram sabha of Velip’s Caurem village unanimously resolved to establish a multi-purpose cooperative society to handle mining activities. The villagers demand that if mining activities are to be resumed, they should be handed over to a village-level cooperative society run by them that will ensure mining is conducted without damaging the environment while also ensuring that the benefits actually reach the weaker sections of the society. Taking note of the various irregularities pointed out by the Shah Commission report, the Supreme Court had imposed a blanket ban on mining in the state in 2012, but last year, mining activities have resumed in parts of Goa, shortly after the ban was lifted. (See less)