It is a weekday, and the once bustling market place is empty. Along the mining belt of Goa, from Sanvodrem to Pissurlem, the dust and din of trucks transporting the ore has given way to an eerie silence.
“Is this how a market should look on a weekday,” asks Mangaldas Naik, staring into the empty road.
If it is a Naik at Sanvordem, there is a Natekar at Kodli-Tisk, who has kept open his food joint, hoping that someone will drop in.
“When mining was on, there would be a queue of mine workers to eat at my restaurant between 12 noon and 3pm. Today, it is difficult to spot one person around here,” he says.
With each passing day, those faint hopes of restart of mining operations is giving way to desolation.
It has been over a year since mining operations were halted after a Supreme Court order, but for these mining-hit, it was as though their life has stopped.
“If Parrikar (former chief minister Manohar Parrikar) was there, he could have done something. There is no chance that the rest will have any clout with the Centre,” says Natekar, a traditional BJP supporter.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempts to assuage their feelings by promising to restart mining has not found many takers.
There is anger and frustration against the state and the central governments and through the nine of the 40 assembly constituencies that roughly count for 2 lakh votes, the common refrain is why couldn’t BJP restart the mines.
“What was the use of having two BJP MPs when they had to wait so long to get an appointment with the PM to discuss the mining issue,” asks Gokuldas Raikar, a dumper operator in the mines of Rivona in Quepem taluka. Currently, Raikar survives on the income from a family-owned cashew plantation.
“I voted for BJP at the last elections and even convinced my family and friends to vote for them. But they are lying about restarting mining. They should have just stated honestly that they cannot restart it,” says Abdul Shaik, a garage owner at Usgao-Tisk who used to repair heavy vehicles.
But despite the disenchantment against BJP, political watchers reckon Congress has let the advantage slip from its hands. “Looking at the state of Congress, it hardly inspires any confidence for the mining belt voters,” says a political observer.
A view which was presented by Prakash Babu, a garage owner at Dharbandara, who is now getting by repairing laterite quarries. “I believe BJP will return at the Centre and it will be more difficult to resolve mining issue if we have Congress MPs here,” he says.
A BJP supporter, Babu puts the blame more on the Supreme Court. “Everyone is having a tough time here. My son is working at the Colgate unit at Kundaim industrial estate. So, we manage somehow,” he says.
But at Pissurlem in Sattari, Union minister and BJP’s North Goa candidate Shripad Naik had to face a hostile reception. “When we questioned him over mining, he said he would restart it in the next term. But can we trust him anymore,” asks Ashok Parab.
A traditional Congress stronghold due to long-time MLA and former chief minister Pratapsingh Rane’s influence, Pissurlem is even willing to change loyalties for mining to restart.
“Even if it restarts with a cap, we will be happy. At its peak, I was earning Rs 2-5 lakh per month. But if I even earn Rs 70,000 now, we are fine. At least the industry will last longer,” says a Pissurlem resident.
BJP seems to have got a grip over the mining belt. “Many are obliged to the BJP-led government for providing them with financial assistance during the mining crisis,” says Sanjay Naik, panchayat member and a former sarpanch of Sanvordem, referring to the one-time settlement schemes offered by the banks to clear their loans.
But then ask Naik, the spare parts shop owner. “I invested all my life’s saving to purchase the shop and stock…altogether Rs 50 lakh. Now, I cannot eat the spare parts. I am on the verge of begging. Earlier, I would have driven all the way to see Atal Setu. Today, I don’t have the wish or the money. I have a 14-year-old son and I have to think of him,” he says.