Thursday-Friday night has turned historic in ways more than one. While the rest of Goa slept, its elected representatives pulled an all-nighter in the Legislative Assembly winding up after 4 am but not before the Goa Mining Development Corporation Bill was introduced in the Assembly at the fag end of the day’s session that had started some 16 hours earlier. Just 13 hours later the House unanimously voted to pass the Bill without any discussion, paving the way for the restart of mining operations in the State that have been on hold since April 2018 after the Supreme Court declared illegal the second renewals of all leases. With this, there is hope that the era of unrestrained mining has come to an end, and Goa and Goans can look forward to a very controlled mining industry.
The passage of the Bill is merely the first step in a long process. The Bill has to now receive the Governor’s nod, then be notified, the rules under it drafted and notified, the body set up before the corporation can start functioning. Actual mining operations will start only after the corporation auctions the leases and after fresh environmental clearances are obtained by those who have bagged the rights to work the leases. Unless all this falls in place, mining operations in the State cannot start. As a result, with just two months before the traditional mining season begins in October, those hopeful of an early start to the operations may have to rethink. It may well be late 2022 before operations in the ore-rich areas of Goa actually begin.
The good news here is that the Bill proposes to carry out mining operations in an “orderly, scientific and ecological sustainable manner”. That will gain the acceptance from everybody for after the illegal mining that led to losses to the government worth thousands of crores that have still not been recovered, what Goa wants is a mining industry that abides by the rules and does not attempt to bend them for the personal lucre of the firms. Simultaneously it requires to step up the pace of recovering the losses due to illegal mining. The House was informed during the session that notice of show cause have been issued to mining firms for recovery of Rs 240.92 crore towards illegal mining and an amount of Rs 79.73 crore has been recovered. This is far less than the actual losses and the process has to be expedited.
After the past experience in the sector, mining in the future will be extensively scrutinised by the people in the State. Goa Foundation that has spearheaded the efforts to streamline the mining sector has already raised several issues that should be taken into consideration. For instance, the green NGO has suggested that there be no fresh extraction of iron ore permitted unless the damages caused by the private mining industry are repaired, lands, fields and rivers desilted and rehabilitated, existing illegal dumps placed outside lease boundaries are removed and returned to mining pits. The foundation has also red flagged to the appointment of the Chief Minister as chairperson of the Corporation, and suggested that it be run by professionals and not politicians.
On both counts, there can be no room for discussion. Goa has got the best opportunity to turn its back on the illegal mining that dominated the scene for decades and install a properly-structured industry that will work within the framework of the law. Such an occasion will not repeat itself and if it does, it would signify that Goa has failed again. The decisions taken in the months ahead will determine the future of mining in the State, hence the long-term perspective cannot be ignored. It is time not just to restart mining operations, but bring in clean and legal mining.