A hasty attempt by Goa's cornered mining companies to pass off a Rs.35,000 crore ($6.5 billion) illegal mining scam as merely "notional" hasn't passed muster with the state's intelligentsia.
Instead, the defence put forth by Shivanand Salgaocar, who heads one of the state's most powerful trade bodies, the Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association (GMOEA), has triggered sniggers of disbelief across a broad section of the intelligentsia here.
Renowned fashion designer Wendell Rodricks, who recently closed down his boutique located in a five-star resort co-owned by a family conducting mining operations, said that loss alone cannot be construed as a notional factor in isolation.
"If there can be a notional loss, there can also be a notional profit and notional greed," Rodricks told IANS.
Salgaocar heads a mining company that has been listed as an offender in the Justice M.B. Shah Commission report, which had pegged Goa's mining scam at Rs.35,000 crore, a figure aggressively disputed by the GMOEA.
"This loss is absolutely notional. Nobody has quoted Justice Shah completely. The actual loss should be calculated based on ground realities by a team of experts with the help of latest 3D equipment," Salgaocar had said.
"Each passing day, more and more missiles are fired at us. So it is imperative for us to clarify about the notional loss of Rs.35,000 crore to the state government that has been attributed to us in the Shah Commission," he had further said.
Writer Jose Lourenco begged to differ with Salgaocar's take on the Shah commission report, which has sent the powerful mining lobby in Goa scurrying for cover.
"The issue of whether the loss is notional or not does not take away from the fact that mining beyond permitted limits of quantity and boundary amounts to theft of national resources and is therefore a criminal act," Lourenco said.
"If a thief were to rob an item, the state would recover it from him and also punish him for the crime ... But if the cops and the state collude with the thieves, we will only end up with notional punishment," he said, with a twist, a trademark of his short stories.
Miguel Braganza, a green activist and agriculturist, said that branding the scam as notional does not mean that it is fiction.
"The export figures aren't notional. The surface area encroached by mining lease holders aren't notional. The (rise of) market price of iron ore from 2005 to 2011 is not notional," Braganza said.
Lisbon-based writer Jason Keith Fernandes claims that until the exact loss caused by the mining scandal is established, the status quo (ban on mining) must stand because the GMOEA has "cleverly" left out the difference between what the association sees as "notional loss" and "actual loss" of money to the exchequer.
"Indeed, given that they do not seem to be refuting the existence of loss, what the GMOEA seems to have very cleverly left out is the difference between the actual and the notional," Fernandes said.
According to Bevinda Colaco, a member of the state planning board, the word "notional" can swing both ways, especially if one takes into account the environmental degradation caused by 12 years of excessive mining to fresh water sources destroyed, fertile land destroyed with mining sludge runoffs, siltation of rivers, burial of forests, respiratory problems caused in the mine-affected areas.
"If all this is quantified and added to the actual ore dug out from so-called legal leases, and encroachment and over exploitation beyond permissible limits, then Rs.35,000 crore is not just notional but laughable too," she said.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at .firstname.lastname@example.org)