It is no surprise that the first meeting of the mining MLAs with the Chief minister to discuss the economic impact of the effective closure of Goa’s mining on March 16, remained inconclusive. The creation of the roadmap which the government wants to lay down in the Budget session of the Assembly, is herculean and is infested with several imponderables, making each option full of pitfalls. A second round of meetings will be held on Feb 24 and 25.
An indication of the route the government may consider was revealed when the Additional Solicitor General (India) Atmaram Nadkarni, the former Advocate General of Goa, opined in the meeting that the government must go for the auctioning of leases, which the majority of mining MLAs do not want.
Speaker Pramod Sawant, MP Narendra Sawikar, Leader of the Opposition Chandrakant Kavlekar, MLAs Pratapsingh Rane, Deepak Pawaskar, Nilesh Cabral, Pravin Zantye and Rajesh Patnekar were part of the meeting.
While Mr Nadkarni emphasised that he had pressed for the auction route clearly, during his arguments in the petition filed against the renewal of leases, the mining MLAs or at least a majority of them were against the auction route. MLA Nilesh Cabral and Speaker and Sanguem MLA Pramod Sawant have clearly said that they want the government to explore other options
One of the mining MLAs and an influential section of the mining sector top brass mentioned that the High Court did not quite order renewals of 88 leases. It merely said that the 28 leases for which prior stamp duty was taken should have renewals executed while a decision on the remaining had to be taken by the State which opted to renew the remaining leases. Now in the wake of the latest judgement all decision making stakeholders are staying clear of claiming any responsibility for lease renewals.
Now the government’s leaning towards the auction route is indicative of the route that the Centre wishes to take to restart mining. One cannot lose sight of the fact that new lease areas have to demarcated by the Center and not the State.
However, the road is long unlike the six month restart roadmap which has been offered. A few points arise. Post March 16 there will be no leases to auction. And it will be the Centre which will mark the leases for auction. Secondly if the surface rights of some of the leases are not available then the party which wins the auction will have to acquire the surface rights.
Most importantly you cannot mine without complete data on the all the minerals including ore available under the ground and royalty cannot be fixed for all minerals which will be extracted under the principle of zero waste mining.
Significantly, the Supreme Court has endorsed that the auction route was only suggested for Spectrum allocation and that it cannot be stretched to all natural resources.
At the same time letting the government take over mining through a mining corporation also is not a hurdle free route. For instance in Orissa the Orissa Mining Corporation has to also be a party bidding for ore extraction with other players and is not in a position to “take over” mining. And as a senior government source involved in the mining roadmap remarked “the government is giving way to private players for efficiency and here there’s talk of government doing mining. That's not its job.”
The honest truth is that there are no clear answers but to get clear answers there must be honesty of purpose. And that stage must arrive soon.