Mining is back in the news as the National Green Tribunal has now asked the State government to estimate the damage caused by illegal mining activities in the State and recover compensation from the polluters based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle.
This will lead to some cheer among the greens in Goa, but the big question is whether the Goa government will act on this. This direction from the green tribunal came even as the mining dependents were on a dharna in New Delhi seeking early resumption of mining operations in the State. What is interesting is that the tribunal based this direction to the State government on various media reports that have appeared in the past that have exposed the threat to the environment caused by illegal mining in the State.
Some of the observations by the tribunal state that rampant mining activities pose a serious threat to the forest cover and are health hazard to the people. It goes on, referring to reports, to state that over one fourth of the State has been affected by mining activity and along with legitimate mining, illegal mining has come to stay in Goa. It doesn’t end there as there is another damaging sentence, when it states that the situation is only going to worsen as mining companies are gearing up to increase the amount of ore extracted from ecologically sensitive regions, and that more than 2.5 lakh hectares of government land have been taken over by illegal mining. We understand these are not the direct observations of the tribunal, but are culled from media reports, but the fact that the NGT felt the need to include these in its order, underlines the fact that it is concerned about the threat to the environment.
In the past years, especially since 2012 when the Justice Shah Commission was tabled in Parliament, much has been written on the effect of illegal mining on the environment and the threats to forest land, yet the government had chosen to ignore all such research and analysis. But, here we have the National Green Tribunal paying heed to the same media reports that the government elected by the people has brushed aside. What does this say of a government that does not bat an eyelid to the threat that mining poses in the State? Instead of making empty promises to the mining dependents the State should have attempted to set right the wrongs created by the sector before seeking a solution to the current impasse on mining operations.
In the six and a half years since the Justice Shah Commission became public, and quantified the loss due to illegal mining at Rs 35,000 crore, the government has been unable to identify the firms that indulged in mining illegalities during the boom period. It has not even concurred on the sum lost, pegging it unofficially at less than 10 per cent of what the Shah Commission had projected. It is not that the State is incapable of doing so, but it doesn’t have the political will to take action against the business interests that control the mining sector. Any deep probe in the mining sector will cause ripples across the Goan industry bigwigs and even among politicians, upsetting the balance that has been controlling the State.
The State has wasted too much time by going slow on the illegal mining investigations. Ironically, the current BJP-led government blames the former Congress-led governments for the loot in the mining sector. One can only imagine what would be the government’s pace of investigation, if the politicians to be probed were to be from their own party? Time has been lost, and no money has been recovered. The threat to the State’s environment grows. The National Green Tribunal is worried, but is the elected State government even listening?