The case for restarting mining operations in Goa will be taking centre stage in the National Capital for the next three days beginning today, December 11, as about a thousand mining dependents sit in protest in New Delhi, and are expected to be joined by some top political leaders from the State and those at the National level. The demand is the same, amend the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act and Goa, Daman and Diu Mining Concessions (Abolition and Declaration of Mining leases Act, 1987) so as to extend the life of the mining leases up to the year 2037 and allow mining operations to resume.
This demand, if it is ever met since the Centre appears reluctant to introduce the amendments, will amount to nothing less than a quick fix solution, whose length of life would be cut extremely short as it stands to be challenged in the Supreme Court and got overturned. Under the current laws, auction is the only option, and the government has finally come around to accepting it. Mining operations in Goa cannot be summarily restarted by short term solutions that will be subject to judicial challenge. Any resolution to the mining situation in the State should be legally vetted and acceptable to all stakeholders, and that includes the people of Goa who are the rightful owners of the ore deposits.
And it is these owners of the ore who also feel slighted and wounded, as action against those who mined illegally and got away is still not forthcoming. If the mining dependents believe that there is no seriousness shown by the government in restarting operations, then there is also no earnestness displayed in recovering the mining loot. The State has been asked numerous times to recover the monies, but the response from the government has been lukewarm, just a languid attempt to show that it is working towards it, with progress being minimal.
These are some of the directives to the State to recover the losses. The Union Mines Ministry in October 2017 had directed mineral rich States to recover the full value of minerals extracted illegally or without EC, following the Supreme Court’s 2017 judgment on Common Cause versus Union of India and Others, related to illegal mining in Odisha. On February 7 this year, when the Supreme Court ordered the closure of mining operations in Goa, it also nailed the government for its failure to recover the monies. It directed the State to take steps to expedite recovery from the mining lease holders pursuant to the show cause notices issued to them and pursuant to other reports available with the State of Goa including the report of Special Investigation Team and the team of Chartered Accountants.
Yet, what is the government response? It is still in the stage of planning a roadmap for the recovery of the losses.
Skirting the issue of recovering mining losses will not save the government from the embarrassment of not acting or of deliberately delaying the recovery process and that is putting a major strain on the exchequer. Already this financial year the government has sold a number of bonds to bolster its financial position, and also placed curbs on spending by government departments. When the State is facing a financial crunch, the recovery of losses from mining would help balance the State budget and also take up projects to the benefit of the people.
The political will to recover the mining losses has never existed. It runs into thousands of crores of rupees and the government has the mandate of the judiciary for this, yet the State hesitates to fulfil its duty. What is the State waiting for? Or is it that it does not wish to antagonise the mining barons in the State? It does look so.