BHUBANESWAR: The tiny state of Goa has become the battlefield for environmentalists fighting illegal mining and companies intend on extracting a profit, with each accusing the other of ruining the coastal state.
It all began in 2012 when the Supreme Court first banned mining and ore exports in Goa, after M B Shah Commission pointed out illegalities during 2005-2012 to the extent of Rs 35,000 crore.
Ever since, the industry never recovered from the ban.
In the meantime, in 2014, the court lifted the ban while capping extraction at 20 million tonnes per year. Soon again, for the second time in nearly two years, the apex court on March 15 cancelled the renewal of iron ore permits that were renewed by the state government in 2014-2015. It’s this belief that for the government to go for an overkill will not only lead to a loss in revenue, but would cost it over three lakh jobs.
While the Central government has hitherto played a mute spectator, various mining dependent associations such as Goa Mining Ore Export Association, Goa Mining People Front Association, Goa Truck Owners’ Association, Goa Machine Owners’ Association, along with MLAs and Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, have decided to up the ante in the battle to resume mining. With little to lose, Parrikar is hell-bent on finding a way out of this imbroglio.
History of botch-ups
The mining concessions originally granted by the Portuguese government were perpetual. The Centre via the Goa Daman and Diu (Abolition of Concession and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act—1987, converted these concessions into mining leases under the Mines and Minerals Development Act—1954, making them valid for a fixed tenure, which lapsed in 2007.
This is because, although the Abolition Act was passed in 1987, the lease period was determined retrospectively from Dec 20, 1961, the year Goa was liberated from Portuguese yoke. In February, the SC held that any mining carried out since 2007 was illegal.
Auction is a fallacy
Most of the jetties in Goa are owned by mining companies and most of the land belongs to local communities. With the introduction of the auction process, continuous supply of raw materials is disrupted and wasteful expenditure, including dismantling of infrastructure set-up by off-going miner, and capital required for restarting mining by the successful bidder is inevitable, reasoned advocate K N Phanindra.
He said the costs involved in bidding and making upfront payments would virtually sniff out small industries and individuals from mining and allied industries. Data from Ministry of Mines shows only 12 out of 72 blocks have been auctioned in 2017-18 and since the enactment of MMDR Amendment Act—2015, only two mines are operational out of the 35 blocks auctioned. Earlier, the nodal industry body had mentioned that ceasing of operations can result in about Rs 3,400 crore revenue loss to the state exchequer.
Rajan Sahai, former Controller General, Indian Bureau of Mines, had suggested that for the time being, the state government can restart mining operations, so that at least those dependent on the sector, the number of which is in lakhs, can get back to work and start earning to meet their daily needs.
“The promulgation of an ordinance to amend the Abolition Act will revive the leases by extending the lease life till 2037,” said BJP MLA Nilesh Cabral, who has already moved a private members resolution in the House. He added that individuals dependent on mining cannot wait for the auctioning of the mining leases, which might take 10-15 more years.
What lies in store?
On August 3, the Goa assembly unanimously passed a resolution to allow the state government to urge the Centre to amend a Central legislation governing the mining sector, allowing the state to bypass a Supreme Court order that had banned mining since February.
“The Prime Minister has constituted a group of ministers. With the support of the House, I will meet them on August 7 and present this issue before them to explain how Goa’s concessions were different… We have to bring to their attention how Goa’s case is different,” Parrikar said.On the other hand, people like Claude Alvares of the Goa Foundation, an environmental action group, have been fighting illegal mining for more than a decade.
Truckers in a bind post mining ban
Truck owners have been rendered jobless overnight. “I took loans worth I5 lakh from Goa state corporation to buy these tippers and pay EMIs amounting to Rs 2.75 lakh. Now, how will I pay it back?” asked Audut Naik, who has been in the business since 2000. Naik said he is left with no option but to sell them at a walk-away price. With the ban, more than 15,000 trucks have been affected.