Mine of protest: Workers oppose sanctuary status for Girnar forest
Indian Express By Sibte Husain Bukhari
Junagadh, September 11 Over 25,000 workers form a joint front to oppose closure of mines after govt's July 2008 decision
Following the closure of the stone mines near Junagadh, which fall within a five km radius of Girnar, some 25,000 odd mine workers and labourers have started an agitation under the banner of the Mine Worker Interest Protection Committee (MWIPC).
They have opposed the grant of sanctuary status to Girnar and called for the resumption of mining activities there. They have started an indefinite relay fast in front of the office of the collector and said that unless their demands are met, or an amicable solution is found to resolve the issue, they will intensify their stir.
In July 2008, the state government had declared the 200 sq km Girnar forest a sanctuary.
Earlier, it was under the reserved forest category. Girnar is the second home of the last surviving group of Asiatic lions after Gir. The forest provides shelter to some two-dozen lions, 50 leopards and hundreds of herbivores.
Haribhai Dabhi, MWIPC leader, said: "The closure of the mines has affected some 25,000 labourers and their family. We are struggling for a daily meal. If mining does not resume soon, a mass exodus cannot be ruled out." He added that the closure of the mines has also affected the education of their children.
Lakhabhai Parmar, a mine workers' leader and the Junagadh Municipal Corporator from ward 17, said if the government fails to resolve the issue, they will resort to a "chakkajam".
He added that the Junagadh Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) also falls within the five km radius of the sanctuary limit. "All the factories and industrial activities function normally there. When the sanctuary rules do not affect the GIDC, then why are the mines being shut," Parmar said.
Naranbhai Dabhi, a labour leader said: "The mines are located in a safe area outside the sanctuary limit. There is a railway line and the state highway runs parallel to the sanctuary border. The mines are located beyond this highway. No wild animal has been seen roaming around in the mining area."
He said the resumption of mining activities will not damage wildlife or environment. "No heavy machinery is used in these mines. So the question of air, water or sound pollution does not arise," he added.