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The Supreme Court on Thursday issued notices to the Centre, Goa government and mining companies on a plea seeking that the interim cap on mining of mineral ores be lowered from the existing 20 Metric Tonnes Per Annum (MTPA) to 12 MTPA.
The notices were issued by a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta on an interlocutory application filed by an NGO, Goa Foundation. The court gave the parties two weeks to file their replies, and posted the matter for hearing on November 29. Appearing for the NGO, Senior Counsel Prashant Bhushan and Advocate Pranav Sachdeva said an expert committee had recommended that the cap be increased from 20 MTPA to 30 MTPA and requested the court not to allow this.
“The interim cap on extraction of mineral ores from Goa, recommended by the expert committee, was fixed in a vacuum, when mining had been suspended for several years. It was not fixed after confronting actual mining operations when started, and their impact on people and environment,” they said. Bhushan also referred to the ongoing investigation in The Indian Express on how the transport of coal through the state is harming its environment. This is choking the state and gives one more reason to cut down the cap on extraction of mineral ores, he said.
The foundation referred to the case of Sonshi village, “which lies adjacent to the cluster that produced the maximum quantity of ore in North Goa in 2016-17”, to prove its point on environmental degradation. “The mining companies have caused immense pollution in Sonshi village in complete violation and disregard for the environment and mining laws. For about eight months, no action was taken whatsoever to control the situation and mining was allowed to continue. The mining companies raked in profits while the authorities turned a blind eye. Meanwhile, the entire social cost of mining had to be borne by the wholly unprivileged tribal villagers of Sonshi,” it said. Also Read | Coal Burying Goa: All along the road route, the black dust settles
“The pollution caused by mining transport in the Sonshi region reached such alarming levels that multiple authorities such as the High Court of Bombay at Goa and the Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights took suo motu cognizance of the matter in order to intervene and provide some relief to the villagers. If such is the situation that could emerge with the existing cap amount, an increase in the cap would be completely unjustified,” it said.
It alleged that the Department of Mining and Geology was “unable to properly administer and govern the mining operations and safeguard the wealth of the people of the state of Goa, present and future.” “The state government has issued an order, reported under affidavit, and a part of the Goa Mineral Policy 2013, that all working mines will be inspected thrice a year and non-working mines once a year, and the reports will be uploaded on the website,” it submitted. However, there were no reports on the website, and no newspaper reports of mine inspections either, it added.
“Though the mining industry was found to have damaged the environment of Goa in a substantial, irreversible manner, as recorded in the reports of the Justice M B Shah Commission and the central empowered committee, no rehabilitation of the damaged environment has even commenced despite mining having resumed, albeit on a smaller scale, for the past two years,” said the foundation.