The Supreme Court Wednesday quashed the Goa government’s second renewal of iron ore mining licences to 88 companies during 2014-15, saying the “unduly hasty” decision was “not in the interests of mineral development”.
Referring to the state mineral policy to underline that “iron ore from Goa is not suitable for the Indian industry” and is “mined only for export, mainly to China and Japan”, the bench said the “primary beneficiary” is “the mining lease holder, a private entity” while the average Goan pays the price for the “polluted environment” and “damage to the state’s ecology”.
The bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, hearing a PIL by NGO Goa Foundation, directed that all mining operations be stopped from March 16 until fresh mining leases — not fresh renewals — and fresh environmental clearances are granted. Affected companies have time until March 15 to manage their affairs.
Goa Foundation had moved court following the report of the Justice M B Shah Commission appointed by the Centre to look into allegations of largescale illegal mining of iron ore and manganese ore in different states in contravention of statutes.
In first remarks after the court decision, Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who is also the minister for mines, said: “There is no panic. We can decide in two-three days. I have to seek legal advice on the issue. As a Chief Minister, I cannot comment casually. The order is not applicable (from) tomorrow… let me read the order properly.”
In its order, the bench said: “The second renewal of mining leases granted by the State of Goa was unduly hasty, without taking all relevant material into consideration and ignoring available relevant material and, therefore, not in the interests of mineral development. The decision was taken only to augment the revenues of the State which is outside the purview of Section 8 (3) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act. The second renewal of the mining leases granted by the State of Goa is liable to be set aside and is quashed.”
The state government, the bench said, was obliged to grant fresh mining leases in accordance with law in view of its previous judgement, and not second renewals, to mining lease holders.
“In our opinion, the direction in Goa Foundation (April 2014 decision) is quite clear and instead of considering the grant of a second renewal of the mining leases, the State of Goa was required to consider the grant of fresh mining leases. Therefore, the decision of the State of Goa to grant a second renewal of the mining leases is erroneous, contrary to the decision in Goa Foundation, and must be and is quashed.”
Following the M B Shah Commission report, Goa passed an order on September 10, 2012, suspending all mining operations in the state with effect from the very next day. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) at the Centre, vide an order dated September 14, 2012, also kept in abeyance environmental clearances granted to 137 mines in the state.
During the pendency of the matter in the Supreme Court, Goa came out with the Grant of Mining Leases Policy which was approved on October 1, 2014. It was issued on November 4, 2014 and placed on the website of the state Directorate of Mines and Geology the same day. The state policy, the court noted, made an “impassioned plea for rejecting the process of competitive bidding of mining leases for the time being”.
But around that time, the Centre decided to amend the MMDR Act to include a clause to make competitive bidding mandatory for allotment of mining licenses. An ordinance to this effect received Presidential assent on January 12, 2015. The Goa government had already approved second renewal of 88 licences from November 5, 2014, completing the process on January 12, 2015 — the day the Presidential assent was granted.
In Goa, activists and representatives of people from mining-affected villages in Bicholim, Quepem and Sanguem talukas welcomed the court decision. “Smile, we have won today,” environmentalist Abhijeet Prabhudesai said to activist Ravindra Velip.
“This is like a shot in the arm,” said Prabhudesai who is also fighting the state government and the Mormugao Port authorities over the transport of coal.
On the court order, I Jeyakumar, chairman of Mormugao Port, said, “It is too early to comment on the scenario as I am in Delhi and still to read the order. For now, we have been informed and are aware that mining stops on March 15. For us to comment on the impact on the port, we will have to go through the order.”
Claude Alvares, Director, Goa Foundation, called for swift action following the order. “Goa Foundation has estimated that Rs 65,058 crore (Rs 4.5 lakh per Goan) is conservatively recoverable for the period of illegal mining between 22-Nov- 2007 and 10-Sep-2012. There are numerous other illegalities as well as compensation for environmental damage under the environmental laws. The Goa government must immediately ask for a freeze on all assets of all erstwhile mining leaseholders,” Alvares said in a statement.