Can Modi re-start mining?

By Ashwin Tombat
14 April 2019 19:23 IST

Speaking at a packed indoor stadium in Bambolim on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: "I will leave no stone unturned vis-a-vis resolving this issue. We will definitely work wholeheartedly to remove the obstacles in the way of mining resumption. Whether we have to find a legal route or present their case to the Supreme Court, we will work with the state government and according to the wishes of the people of Goa."

As Mr Modi was speaking, around 500 workers of the Goa Mining People's Front (GMPF), an organisation of workers, truck and barge operators dependent on the iron ore mining industry, were holding a three-day sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar, Delhi. Since the Supreme Court banned extraction and transportation of iron ore from 88 mines in March 2018, GMPF President Puti Gaonkar says mining dependents have been living on loans, and their children have had to drop out of school due to non-payment of fees.  

On Monday 15 April, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a 20-year-old appeal filed by a mining company challenging a 1987 law that abolished mining concessions granted by the erstwhile colonial Portuguese administration. The High Court of Bombay at Goa had earlier dismissed their petitions challenging the Goa, Daman and Diu (Abolition and Declaration of Mining Leases) Act, 1987.

More pertinently, a week ago, mining dependents commenced an anti-BJP campaign in the mining belt under the GMPF banner. No wonder local BJP politicians, who have lost all credibility with mining dependents after repeatedly giving pledges that mining will re-start “shortly” over the past year, asked Mr Modi to give the assurance on their behalf.

But will Mr Modi be able to keep his promise?

 

When the Supreme Court lifted its ban on mining in Goa in 2014, it ordered the state government to grant fresh leases. Instead, the government ‘renewed’ the very leases the SC had deemed to have expired in 2007. This grossly illegal act led to the SC judgment of 7 February last year, cancelling the renewals of all 88 mining leases. The apex court said renewals had been done only to circumvent the central government’s 2015 amendment ruling that all mining leases had to be awarded through e-auctions.

BJP politicians in the state claim that an ordinance or amendment — to the Mines and Minerals [Development and Regulation] Act (MMDR Act) or to the Goa Daman and Diu (Abolition of Concession and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act, 1987 — can restart iron ore extraction and avoid the auctions mandated by the amended MMDR Act.

They are simply telling lies. And now, they are peddling these very lies to the honourable Prime Minister of the country.

The fact is, iron ore mining cannot restart without auctions.

The only possible way out of this imbroglio is if the Goa government takes ownership of the state’s iron ore mining leases, and then contracts them out to the mining companies to operate; for a fee or on a profit-sharing basis. Regrettably, neither the government nor the mining companies are in favour of this solution.

Congress politicians are no better. They claim that the BJP is incompetent. A Congress government, they say, will get mining restarted. Possibly, they are worse liars than their BJP counterparts…   

Union Minister for Mines Narendra Singh Tomar said at an international conference of aluminium producers in Bhubaneshwar in February: “Neither the state nor the centre can allocate any mining lease today, unless it is through e-auction.”. He was right then; he is right now.

Mr Modi’s five years in office is littered with quite a few unfulfilled promises. This is neither the time nor place to go into details, but we can be sure that one more — restarting of mining in Goa — will be added to that list. Unless the state government is willing to auction the leases or take over the mines…

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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