PANAJI: The five-decade-old mining industry in Goa is staring at another bout of uncertainty as the Supreme Court order of ban on iron ore extraction in the state comes into effect tonight.
The Mines and Geology Department has asked all operational mining lease holders to stop extracting fresh ore by evening, while transportation of ore was also stopped.
Mining equipment were moved out of the facilities.
Goa agriculture minister Vijai Sardesai had yesterday said the state would face the "biggest" crisis when the ban comes into force.
Another senior Goa minister Sudin Dhavalikar said today that Union minister Nitin Gadkari would visit Goa on March 20 and hold discussions with stakeholders in the industry in an attempt to find a solution to the crisis.
The mining and tourism industries are the key revenue earners for the coastal state.
A cabinet committee had yesterday decided to urge Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, currently in the US for medical treatment, to file a review petition in the apex court as a last-ditch effort to save the industry.
The state government fears that the sudden stoppage of extraction of fresh ore would result in two lakh people working at mining sites losing jobs.
The Supreme Court had last month quashed the second renewal of iron ore mining leases given to 88 companies in Goa in 2015.
The apex court said it was giving time till March 15 to mining lease holders, who were granted second renewal in violation of its previous directions, to manage their affairs.
They were directed to stop all mining operations with effect from March 16, until fresh mining leases (not fresh renewals or other renewals) are granted and fresh environmental clearances given.
People dependent on the industry have planned public meetings to register their protest tomorrow and the day after.
This is the second big blow to the industry, which had faced closure in 2012 too, following the SC directives.
The court had then taken cognisance of the M B Shah commission report, which claimed there was illegal mining worth Rs 35,000 crore in the state between 2005 and 2012.
The industry remained shut for nearly 19 months from October 2012 to April 2014, when the apex court finally allowed miners to operate while imposing several riders.
The restriction of extracting only 20 million metric tonnes of ore annually was also imposed on the industry, which had the capacity to tap double the ore before the court ban.
After lifting of the ban, it took another 18 months for the industry to actually start the work as the first fresh extraction took place in October 2015.
The industry could not recover fully after resumption as during the fiscal 2015-16, just about 7.2 million metric tonnes of the ore was extracted.
A total of 37.11 million metric tonnes ore has been extracted from the time the ban was lifted to date, bringing in a revenue of Rs 1,243.54 crore, according to figures of the Mines and Geology Department.
"The main reason why the industry could not pick up speed is the lack of demand from markets like China, which was a traditional buyer of the ore from Goa.
The ore produced in the state is of low grade and it has no value in the international market," said Haresh Melwani, a mine owner and member of the Goa Mining Association.
"The overall economy of the state will slow down. The impact is going to be huge. People living in the mining belt are in a state of panic. Their livelihood would be lost," Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party's MLA from Sanvordem constituency Deepak Pauskar said.
The constituency is predominantly a mining belt.
The state government has been trying to work out a solution to resolve the crisis but there may not be any immediate relief, he said.
Director of Mines and Geology Prasanna Acharya said mines in the state had stopped operations by evening.
Sources in the department said, a total of 10.58 million metric tonnes of ore was extracted in Goa during the current financial year (2017-18).
Acharya said that 37 mining leases were operational in the state this fiscal, while others were inactive.
Fearing a backlash from those dependent on the mining industry, the department has sought police protection for its teams which will inspect the mines from tomorrow.
The department has formed a committee of its officials and those from the Director General of Mines Safety, Indian Bureau of Mines and Goa State Pollution Control Board which will inspect the mines and submit a report.