Don’t Rub Salt into the Wounds of Mining-Dependents

By Ashwin Tombat
24 March 2019 19:55 IST

It was during the second week of February 2018  that the Supreme Court of India ruled that Goa’s BJP-led government’s renewals of all 88 iron ore mining leases in the state was illegal. In its judgment, India’s apex court stated that the 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.

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’s judgment of 7 February last year.

Since then, all the BJP politicians in the state have been telling Goa’s mining-dependent families that through an ordinance or by way of an amendment — to either the Mines and Minerals [Development and Regulation] Act (MMDR Act) or the Goa Daman and Diu (Abolition of Concession and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act, 1987 — it will restart iron ore extraction and avoid the auctions mandated by the amended MMDR Act.

They are simply telling lies. And they are giving the mining-dependent families false hopes.

Congress politicians, too, are being economical with the truth. Their claim is that the BJP is incompetent, and a Congress government would have got mining restarted by now. It is difficult to say whether they are better or worse liars than their BJP counterparts. 

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

The only possible exception is if the Goa government itself takes ownership of the state’s iron ore mines, and then gives them out to the mining companies to operate on contract; for a fee or on a profit-sharing basis. But neither the government nor the mining companies are in favour of this solution.

The verdict is clear. Union Minister for Mines Narendra Singh Tomar, speaking in Bhubaneshwar at an international conference of aluminium producers last Saturday, ruled out any amendment to extend 300-odd mining leases all over the country that will lapse in 2020.

More specifically, the Union Mines Minister said that the central government will not intervene in Goa’s mining crisis. “Neither the state nor the centre can allocate any lease today, unless it is through e-auction,” he declared.   

Mr Tomar is very clear, very straightforward, and very right.

But still our politicians continue to obfuscate the issue. BJP State President Vinay Tendulkar actually said that Union Mines Minister Tomar’s statement “has no link with the Goa mining issue”(!). He went to assure the people of Goa that a solution on mining is expected after 13 February, when the ongoing budget session of Parliament ends.

Mr Tendulkar’s assurance was probably based on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with a delegation from Goa. Unlike Mr Tomar, Mr Modi chose his words very carefully. The PM told a delegation of the Goa Mining People’s Front (GMPF), South Goa MP Narendra Sawaikar and Union AYUSH Minister Shripad Naik on Wednesday that the government may not “immediately” amend an existing law to restart iron ore mining in the state because of frequent disruptions in parliament by the opposition. PM Modi told the delegation: “We will all have to work together to try and find a solution to the issue.”

The budget session of Parliament ends on 13 February. Shortly after, by-elections to the Mandrem and Shiroda constituencies in Goa will be declared, and the Code of Conduct will be in force, when nothing can be done. Immediately after that will come the Code of Conduct for the Lok Sabha elections…

By blaming the Opposition for their plight, what Mr Modi is hinting to Goa’s mining-dependent families is that he “may” be able to do something for them, but only if they vote his party back to power in the coming Lok Sabha elections. That’s no assurance. It’s plain politics!

(Originally published on Sunday 10 February 2019, in 'Lokmat')

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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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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