The five-decade-old mining industry in Goa is staring at another bout of uncertainty as the Supreme Court order on closure of iron ore extraction activity in the state comes into effect tonight.
Goa agriculture minister Vijai Sardesai had yesterday said that the state would face the “biggest” crisis from tomorrow, when the mining ban comes into force. 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 and its stakeholders.
The state government fears that the sudden stoppage of extraction of fresh ore would result in two lakh people, working at mining sites on different assignments, losing their jobs.
The government, meanwhile, has drawn a comprehensive plan under which mine owners will stop the extraction of ore from tonight while machineries will be moved out from the sites later.
The Supreme Court (SC) 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 have been granted a second renewal in violation of its previous directions, to manage their affairs.
They are 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 are granted, the court had said.
People dependent on this industry are worried as it appears there are no signs of resumption of mining activity in the near future. This is the second big blow to the industry, which had faced closure in 2012 also 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 on it in 2012.
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 come to its full glory after resumption as during the fiscal 2015-16, just about 7.2 million metric tonnes of the ore was extracted.
Besides, a total of 37.11 million metric tonnes ore has been extracted from the time the ban was lifted till date, bringing in a revenue of Rs 1,243.54 crore, as per 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.
Even after the ban was lifted, the industry was reeling under crisis due to several reasons, including taxation on the product, he said.
The shutting down of the mining industry now is expected to have an economic impact on Goa.
“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 Sanvordem 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 an immediate relief available for the people, he said.