iron ore min­ing in Goa re­mains a con­tentious is­sue

Iron ore min­ing in Goa re­mains a con­tentious is­sue – bal­anc­ing en­vi­ron­ment and health is­sues with de­vel­op­ment is not easy

Governance Now - - CONTENTS - Ga­janan Khergamker

In a breather for the min­ing in­dus­try, the supreme court on April 4 al­lowed the ex­port of iron ore from load­ing points on river jet­ties in goa while dis­pos­ing a joint spe­cial leave ap­pli­ca­tion filed by Vedanta Re­sources and another lo­cal min­ing com­pany. The bench of jus­tices Madan lokur and deepak gupta main­tained that the iron ore for which roy­alty has been paid to the state government and has been ex­tracted on or be­fore March 15 this year should be al­lowed to be trans­ported. se­nior ad­vo­cate shyam di­van and Kapil Sibal, ap­pear­ing for the firms, had ar­gued those ores were ex­ca­vated prior to March 15 and firms had statu­tory ap­provals for ex­port.

Con­cur­rently, af­ter the anti-cor­rup­tion bureau of the vig­i­lance depart­ment and the Cen­tral Bureau of in­ves­ti­ga­tion (CBI) de­clined to in­ves­ti­gate the process of lease re­newals, goa Foun­da­tion, a vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion com­plained to the goa lokayukta, who is­sued no­tices on April 4 to for­mer chief min­is­ter laxmikant Parsekar, exmines sec­re­tary Pawan Ku­mar sain, and direc­tor of mines and ge­ol­ogy Prasanna Acharya in a case con­cern­ing the al­leged il­le­gal re­newal of 88 min­ing leases. The three have been asked to file replies by May 7.

The le­gal tan­gle is far from over as a strong en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist lobby pulls no punches when it comes to pin­ning the state government down on is­sues of ap­par­ent ex­cess and il­le­gal­ity when it comes to min­ing in goa.

For years to­gether, a thin sheen of min­ing dust, of­ten iron ore, would coat

the streets, the hoods of parked trucks, cover samosas dis­played on ta­bles at restau­rants, coat bot­tles of petrol in min­eral wa­ter bot­tles hung for sale out­side bars, even lie sprin­kled atop the hair of work­ers jostling their way about goa’s min­ing zones and nearby vil­lages par­tic­u­larly in Bi­cholim, sanguem and the son­shi clus­ter. The dust caused res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems, pol­luted the very pris­tine air that goa is known for, and killed slowly, as environmentalists across in­dia claimed. And, de­spite re­peated complaints and con­tentious al­le­ga­tions of il­le­gal and un­reg­u­lated min­ing across the na­tion’s small­est state, the in­dus­try thrived. And with it thrived the pol­lu­tion, the il­le­gal­ity and, what was per­ceived as, the bul­ly­ing of a state refusing to re­lent. Af­ter March 16, all of that changed.

The goa government just didn’t see it com­ing. The supreme court or­der on Fe­bru­ary 8 rapped the state for fail­ing to fol­low the due process in re­new­ing 88 min­ing leases for 20 years. it quashed the goa government’s or­der to re­new the li­cences of min­ing com­pa­nies in the state and per­mit­ted them to carry out min­ing activities only till March 16, af­ter which fresh leases would have to be is­sued on ob­tain­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ances. The government will have to start an auc­tion process all over again. The ju­di­ciary has, in a dis­play of judicial ac­tivism, filled the chasm cre­ated by leg­isla­tive em­pa­thy and rapped the ex­ec­u­tive.

That said, the supreme court’s or­der can­celling min­ing leases from midmarch 2018 is per­ceived as strin­gent and with scant re­gard for the min­ing econ­omy or those who de­pend on it. The apex court or­der is seen as focusing on the greed of min­ers and com­plic­ity of the polity who re­newed leases in­stead of hold­ing fresh auc­tions.

The crux of the is­sue was that the goa government re­newed the leases barely a week be­fore the cen­tre brought out the Mines and Min­er­als (de­vel­op­ment and reg­u­la­tion) Amend­ment or­di­nance on Jan­u­ary 12, 2015. The or­di­nance was later re­placed by the law passed by par­lia­ment. This de­spite the BJP be­ing in ma­jor­ity at both the cen­tre and the state. The tim­ing and the hurry to re­new the leases is per­ceived as an af­front to the rule of law. “Why did the goa government rush into re­new­ing the leases when the cen­tre was com­ing out with a law on the same?” asks sanguem-based agri­cul­tur­ist Al­fred Fur­tado. “There cer­tainly seems to be a vested in­ter­est in the state at­tempt­ing to wrest con­trol from the ju­di­ciary and dodge the law.”

A con­trar­ian ar­gu­ment that is be­ing of­fered to­day across Goa through staterun plat­forms is that the court’s rul­ing does not com­pen­sate for the lack of sound pol­icy, en­sure im­ple­men­ta­tion or im­mu­nise those who are af­fected di­rectly be­cause of the supreme court rul­ing. The judg­ment is be­ing flayed as con­stricted in ap­proach and reach: it is said that it poses a di­rect threat to the in­ter­est of thou­sands of work­ers and transporters, lead­ing to colos­sal losses to the state ex­che­quer, in­dia’ ex­port fig­ures and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions that have lent to min­ing com­pa­nies and fi­nanced min­ing equip­ment and ve­hi­cles.

“Our prayers have fi­nally been an­swered,” says rewa de’souza, 67, of Bi­cholim, who lost her 32-year-old son to tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in 2014 and blames the “rape of na­ture” on the “politi­cians and the min­ing in­dus­try, which are only in­ter­ested in rob­bing goa’s nat­u­ral re­sources and leav­ing its peo­ple with health prob­lems”.

Paus­ing pe­ri­od­i­cally to use an asthma in­haler to as­sist breath­ing, rewa ex­presses re­lief at the supreme court judg­ment. “i hope the government has learned a les­son at least now and keeps a check on il­le­gal min­ing,” she says. “i am not against min­ing at all. But i can’t turn a blind eye to the ruin of

“With min­ing halted, a lot of peo­ple will face dif­fi­cul­ties. They’ll not be able to re­pay loans taken for run­ning trans­port and other busi­nesses.” Ma­hen­dra Shetye

our crops, fields, our chil­dren’s health. i was be­gin­ning to wonder if there was any law and or­der left in the coun­try at all.”

There are real is­sues that the min­ing in­dus­try will face, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the supreme court or­der. should a miner fail in getting back the same mine in fresh auc­tions, the new al­lot­tee will be obliged to take over all the op­er­a­tional ex­penses, in­clud­ing debt ser­vice on min­ing equip­ment and op­er­a­tional civil works. And, if the ex­tant miner has pro­cured personal loans to fund a child’s ed­u­ca­tion abroad or in­vest in some res­i­den­tial prop­erty or another busi­ness by hy­poth­e­cat­ing the mine’s as­sets or any part of it, the li­a­bil­ity to that ex­tent will not be part of what the new li­censee takes on.

ear­lier, the court had sus­pended all iron ore min­ing and trans­porta­tion in the state in oc­to­ber 2012, act­ing on the jus­tice MB shah com­mis­sion re­port that found mil­lions of tonnes of iron ore be­ing mined il­le­gally. This time, the supreme court acted on a pe­ti­tion lawyer Prashant Bhushan had filed against the state government’s or­der in 2015 to re­new 88 min­ing leases.

iron­i­cally, the BJP gov­ern­ments both at the cen­tre and the state now find them­selves in a quandary. While the state has had to eat hum­ble pie fol­low­ing an in­glo­ri­ous snub­bing by the supreme court which re­versed, in one clean sweep, the go­ings-on in the state’s min­ing cir­cles. The supreme court has, in the re­cent past, been tak­ing strin­gent mea­sures against ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the iron-ore min­ing sec­tor across in­dia and for the goa government to then at­tempt­ing to by­pass the auc­tion route for lease re­newal was ask­ing for trou­ble.

The supreme court bench of jus­tices Madan lokur and deepak gupta had given lease­hold­ers a month till March 15 to man­age their af­fairs and wind up their op­er­a­tions un­til fresh min­ing leases and en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ances were granted.

And now, that too has come to an end. “The ur­gency sud­denly ex­hib­ited by the state seems to be make-be­lieve and mo­ti­vated rather than gen­uine” and the un­due haste in which the state government acted gives the im­pres­sion that it was “will­ing to sac­ri­fice the rule law for the ben­e­fit of the min­ing lease hold­ers”.

The prime min­is­ter’s of­fice has sought a de­tailed re­port from the state government on the pos­si­ble eco­nomic im­pact of the supreme court or­der and co­in­cid­ing with it is goa’s all-pow­er­ful min­ing lobby that has been mak­ing fran­tic ap­peals to the state to sal­vage it from the phe­nom­e­nal loss trig­gered by clo­sure.

in Honda vil­lage near Bi­cholim in goa, as Ma­hen­dra shetye stands out­side his shetye Bar and restau­rant, he re­calls the times when dur­ing af­ter­noons and evenings his bar would be packed with peo­ple and he would earn as much as ₹10,000 daily. From 1986 when he started busi­ness till date when min­ing is tak­ing a body blow, his in­come has been re­duced to a frac­tion of what he’d make ear­lier.

“With min­ing stop­ping a lot of peo­ple will have dif­fi­culty in re­pay­ing ve­hi­cle loans, and face losses,” says shetye. He too had taken a few bank loans that he has barely man­aged to re­pay.

un­der­stand­ing the ex­tent and reach of the supreme court’s judg­ment on min­ing in goa, takes a lit­tle more than mere theoretical rea­son­ing. “It af­fects thou­sands of those who de­rive their daily bread from the min­ing activities,” feels a Bi­cholim-based bar op­er­a­tor ra­jaram. “When­ever min­ing is stopped, my busi­ness gets af­fected the worst. My cus­tomers are truck driv­ers, me­chan­ics and trans­port work­ers who work in the min­ing in­dus­try,” he says, as he wipes off the sheen of iron ore dust that lay­ers his bar ta­bles. “Health suf­fers be­cause of the min­ing dust but what can we do? i have to do busi­ness. How else will i pay my rent?” he asks.

ra­jaram’s stand, on the face of it, wa­ters down the harm un­leashed by il­le­gal min­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal hazards that wreak havoc across the state yet speaks reams of how eco­nomic depen­dence thrust upon a cit­i­zenry by an ob­tuse State can af­fect the peo­ple’s ba­sic right to life. so­ci­ety has as much at stake in min­ing as the state it­self.

While on the one hand there’s an ap­par­ent loss to busi­ness but scratch be­low the sur­face and the ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties strike the very core of hu­man ex­is­tence: The right to life! it’s time the state steps in to mend ways and find a so­lu­tion that’s vi­able and … le­gal!

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In cer­tain parts of Goa, the very red look of the earth speaks of iron ore

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