Goa anti-mining activist battles defamation suit

January 31st, 2009 - 11:59 am ICT by IANS  

Panaji, Jan 31 (IANS) Practically speaking, a cheque for Rs 5,014 stands no chance against a Rs.5 billion defamation suit. But for anti-mining activist Sebastian Rodrigues, it’s a beginning of sorts.Sebastian, who’s been furiously blogging against the ravages of rampant mining in the less-glamorous locales of Goa, now finds himself slapped with a Rs.5 billion criminal defamation suit by Fomento group of industries for “publishing false and defamatory articles” on his blog www.mandgoa.blogspot.com against the company’s mining operations.

Interestingly, the criminal defamation suit, which objects to Sebastian’s writings on mining-related ravages in Goa, has been filed in the Kolkata High Court.

The suit charges the 30-something Sebastian with posting “cooked up, false, incorrect and fabricated” articles on his blog, which are reported to have caused “irreparable damage to the plaintiff’s business”.

“Sebastian has for quite some time been creating unwanted unwarranted obstruction to the smooth functioning of the plaintiff at Colomba and Advalpal mines,” the mining firm has argued in its plaint.

The suit further charges Sebastian with publishing “wholly false and grossly defamatory statements which are being made/published with the object to maligning and vilifying the plaintiff in the eyes of general public.”

Sebastian, who has also worked as an activist in rural Jharkhand, has now emerged as the face of the growing anti-mining sentiment in the state. Other anti-mining activists and a significant section of Goa’s burgeoning number of social activists have begun to line up behind Sebastian, also nicknamed Naxalite.

The Rs.5,014 cheque was the first contribution made towards Sebastian’s judicial expense kitty by noted Goan artist Venantius Pinto.

“Advocate Norma Alvares is helping me handle the defamation case,” the lanky Sebastian, slouching in his trademark crumpled black T-shirt and loose pants, told IANS. Alvares is a recent recipient of the Padma Shri award for her contribution in the human rights and social activism sphere.

As the cheques begin to trickle in, the well-networked NGO circuit in Goa recently witnessed a hectic round of solidarity meetings in Sebastian’s favour, with nearly every activist worth his or her salt dropping by to make an appearance.

Human rights activist Durgadas Gaonkar told IANS: “Such defamations suits would not deter anti-mining activism. Seby’s blog talks about the ground reality of rural Goa, which is in disarray because of rampant illegal mining by most mining firms.

“Farm lands are being layered with mining slush, making agriculture virtually impossible. We can give you hundreds of examples where people have had to relocate more than three times, as their houses developed cracks because of blasting in the mines, which keep exceeding their perimeter.”

Goa Su-Raj Party president Floriano Lobo said the Fomento Group of Industries’ move to file a suit in Kolkata was mischievous. “Their vice president Corporate Communications, Sujay Gupta, who has filed the suit, has his residence in Moira, Goa, a few houses away from mine. And yet he has sworn on affidavit in the Kolkata High Court that he resides in Kolkata! This is nothing but harassment.”

Pushkar Raj of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, who was in Goa to express solidarity with Sebastian, said that such “convoluted judicial moves” were only a sign of things to come. “This is a bad precedent and needs to be handled effectively. This suit is against an activist today. Similar cases could also be made out against journalists in the future,” Raj warned.

Writer activist Venita Coelho said that the defamation case was not the first attempt by the mining lobby to pin down Sebastian and his blogs.

According to Venita: “Their vice president of corporate communications, Sujay Gupta, did his best to have Seby labelled as a Naxalite some months ago. The falsehood led to red faces in the administration and among the opposition.”

Gupta told IANS: “Neither I nor the company would like to comment on the matter right now”, as long as the matter was in court.

Mining has always been a contentious issue in Goa. The recent infrastructure boom had virtually quadrupled demand for iron ore, which triggered rampant illegal mining, leading to several conflicts between the mining industry and villagers living on the outer fringes of mining tracts in the Goan hinterland.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan@gmail.com)

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