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Friday, August 07, 2020

All eyes in Goa on SC today as it hears key pleas on iron ore mining

Goa Foundation writes to Prime Minister urging state to recover dues from illegal miners.

Written by Smita Nair | Panjim | Updated: July 23, 2020 7:49:09 am
Goa Foundation’s director Claude Alvares on whose petitions the Apex Court put mining on hold has been consistently pointing to the delay in auctioning of fresh leases. (File)

THE Supreme Court will hear Thursday two petitions urging it to allow resumption of iron ore mining in Goa. While private mining company Vedanta has filed a Special Leave Petition, the Goa government — reeling under a direct annual revenue loss of Rs 600 crore and pushed to “curtail essential infrastructure activities” — too has filed a review petition.

The state government is hoping to convince the bench that all previous legal positions with regard to status of mining leases in Goa have been “discriminatory” as under the Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation Act, 1957) every state has benefited from two renewals of mining leases except Goa, where mining leases were quashed before its second renewal.

“Unlike other states, where mining leases were given a second renewal of 20 years, Goa never enjoyed that benefit. If granted now, that would mean the mining activity can begin and extend till 2027,” said a senior government official.

Both appeals have sought review of a legal point in the apex court’s February 7, 2018 judgment in the petition filed by Goa-based NGO Goa Foundation. The top court while quashing all 88 mining leases — calling them illegal, and also faulting them on environmental grounds — had directed the state government to grant fresh mining leases through public auction and not go for renewals.

The state’s review plea says the decision “affects the economy and issues related to livelihood of the state”, pointing to renewal provisions of MMDR Act as it stood prior to an amendment to the Act.

Nilesh Cabral, Minister for Law and Judiciary, Goa, cites two key drivers: “One is the economy of the state and the other is the employment potential of the people which has come to a standstill.” Given that the pandemic has hit tourism too, this is a triple whammy, he says.

Pitching the dependence of more than 17 per cent of Goa’s population directly or indirectly to mining, and loss of peripheral economy to Rs 240 crore, the state has submitted that stoppage of mining led to borrowings to the tune of Rs 2400 crore to fund capital needs.

Vedanta’s plea seeks an extension of mining till 2037 — 10 more years than the time limit advanced by Goa Government — as it points to a new section 8A (3) inserted in the MMDR Amendment Act, 2015, which states that “all leases, whenever granted, shall be deemed to have been granted for a period of 50 years”.

Goa Foundation’s director Claude Alvares on whose petitions the Apex Court put mining on hold has been consistently pointing to the delay in auctioning of fresh leases.

In a letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, he wrote, “Goa had no option in these circumstances but to go for auction…Six years have passed by since the Supreme Court directed the state of Goa to start mining on a clean slate but till today the Government of Goa, fully in league with influential and wholly corrupt private mining companies and former lease holders, has steadfastly refused to implement these directions.”

Alvares has also red-flagged how the government has failed to recover its dues from 21 lease owners. The letter questions whose interests are being served if the ore is being sold to China market.

Pointing that till date only Rs 3.99 crore has been recovered from the miners, the letter adds, “It goes without saying that if the sum of Rs 3431.31 crores is recovered, many of the financial problems facing the State would find relief”.

According to the government’s own calculation, mining activities represented 16.33 per cent ( Rs 6436.18 crore) of the state GSDP (Rs 42,367 crore) in 2012, which fell to 5.98 per cent in 2012 and 0.12 per cent in 2013-14.

Leader of Opposition Digambar Kamat says the delay is crippling. “We had in the last Assembly also passed a unanimous resolution that mining should be started as early as possible. All steps should be taken to begin mining as fast as possible so that the economy of the state grows.”

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