Goa Mining - Balanced Approach

By Cleofato A Coutinho
06 May 2014 20:38 IST

It is good that the Supreme Court judgement in the Goa mining case is pronounced after the Lok Sabha elections in Goa, otherwise parties would only compete with each other in claiming credit for vacation of the ban imposed by Supreme Court.

A close look at the judgement shows a balanced approach to the State government’s demand of permitting to mine at 45 million tons per year against Goa Foundation’s pitch for 15 million tons. An impression has been created that the Supreme Court judgement is only an interim order and that a final order is expected after the expert committee gives its final report. Actually the judgement is a final one disposing not only the writ petition filed by Goa Foundation but all the writ petitions filed before the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court and transferred to the Supreme Court which questioned the suspension of the environmental clearances to the mines in the State of Goa.

Though the Goa government built euphoria around the lifting of the ban on mining, there is little cheer among mine owners truck owners, barge operators and other mining vested interests due to the cap imposed to the extent of 20 millions tons per annum on the annual excavation of iron ore in Goa.   Though the Supreme Court has recorded the expert committee’s opinion that till a scientific study is done by the committee which would take about 12 months, the mining activity be restricted to 20 million tons per annum, there is nothing to suggest that the excavation limit can only go up. It is important to note that the expert committee’s recommendation of 20 million tons accepted by the Supreme Court came after study of the TERI’s preliminary report and the government of India entrusted Indian School of Mines (ISM Dhanbad) which proposed the cap of 24.995 million tons per annum, on the basis of the carrying capacity (road capacity) of the existing infrastructure of Goa.

The 20 millions tons cap on excavation has come after the expert committee highlighted the damage done “…by the enhanced level of annual production contributed to adverse impacts on the ecological systems, socio economics of Goa and health of people of Goa leading to loss of ecological integrity. This is due to enhanced levels of pollutants, particularly RSPM and SPM, sedimentation of materials from dumps and iron ore in rovers, estuaries and shallow depth (20m) of sea water, agricultural fields, high concentration of Fe and Mn in surface waters and their bioaccumulation.”

Whether the environmentalists or those involved in exploiting the mother earth for commence and economics shall succeed could depend upon expert committee’s final report. Currently as per ISM Dhanbad the maximum excavation could be 27.5 million tons. But who knows what is store for Goa!

 

The Supreme Court, having declared that the deemed mining leases expired on 22/11/1987, has left it to the state government to decide the policy in what manner the leases of mineral resources would be granted. The demand by a section of society including Goa Foundations, for mining activity to be conducted by the state though a state owned corporation appears not a viable proposal in light of the performance of various public sector undertakings and the principle that ‘state has no business to be in business’ which principle seem to go further in the present political atmosphere. The loss making Public Sector undertaking of Karnataka-Mysore Minerals and Metals is a shining example of a public sector in the mining sector.  

The Goa government in framing the mining policy may have limited options in light of two major circumstances (a) the challenge to the Goa Daman and Diu Mining Concessions (abolition and declaration as mining leases) Act 1987 pending before the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court permitting the then concessionaries to carry on mining operations and mining business based upon an interim order and (b) the state government has already collected stamp duty with a clear intention to grant mining leases. So any policy to be formulated may have to take into account these two circumstances and from that point of view the state government appears to have limited options. The collection of stamp duty during the mining ban period has certainly limited government’s options in formulating the mining policy based on which the leases would be granted.

The Goa Pollution Control Board which did precious little in the regulation of mining is now enjoined with the responsibility to monitor air and water pollution in the mining area. From that perspective the Goa State Pollution Control Board becomes yet another authority the miners shall have to deal with in course of their business.  

Though severe restrictions have been imposed with direction of strict monitoring of the law in so far as mining activity, the Supreme Court has only strengthened the hands of the state government in dealing with illegalities. Earlier the state government would push the onus on the Central Government or the Indian Bureau of Mines and the Central Government would hold the state government responsible. In a way nobody would assume responsibility. The Supreme Court has now made the Govt. of Goa and the Goa Pollution control Board as the supervisor and controller of the mining sector. Under the judgement Ministry of Environment and Forest has the responsibility of issuing notifications of eco sensitive zones along with national parks and wild life centuries.   

To what extent mining operations can be carried out within the four corners of the directions issued by the Supreme Court would also depend upon how the Goa government formulates the policy in accordance with law and to what extent the Government and Goa Pollution Control Board monitors the air and water pollution in the mining area.

It can be said that Goa will be greener if the Supreme Court’s judgement is implemented in the proper perspective.

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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Goans Must Demand To Pass Swaraj Act, So That Mining Income Can Come In The Hands Of Goans.

- Jose Rod, Goa | 12 th May 2014 13:43

 

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