If there is a fair belief that the highest courts of the land dispense justice, according to their rightful interpretation of the laws of the land, then a continuous and steady admonition of the mining governance pattern in Goa repeatedly by the High Court and the Supreme Court, is making the debate over the state’s role in protecting its own resources rather skewed. And when we say governance, we need to be explicit that we are not talking parties or politics here.
The fundamentals of governance of our mineral wealth are rotten to the core, corroded by a system which allowed the mining firms (and not lease holders) to function in a manner in which they literally claimed proprietorship over land and resources, and pretty much the functioning of the mining department. As a result what we got was not control but connivance. The highest court of the State, as well as the highest court of the land, have mentioned this connivance between the administration and the mining firms, with different degrees of pain and intensity while adjudicating on various petitions or appeals, like Goa Foundation - 1 (the main petition 435/1 commonly known as the illegal mining case settled in March 2014), the Lithoferro case (of the renewal of 88 leases on January 12, 2015 and now the Goa Foundation 2 case where the decision to allow ore transportation post March 15 was challenged.
Seldom have the highest courts in the country been as direct as this on the issue of the State being in the same side of the court of those who were found to be carrying out rampant illegal mining.
The bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, while cancelling the 88 lease renewals effected by the Goa government in January 2015 had given leaseholders a month (till March 15, 2018) to manage their affairs and wind up their operations until fresh mining leases and environmental clearances were granted, said, “The “undue haste” in which the state government acted gives the impression that it was “willing to sacrifice the rule law for the benefit of the mining lease holders”. It then said, “The real intention” of the second renewal was to “satisfy the avariciousness of the mining lease holders”.
The aspect of connivance superseding control is the root of mining mis-governance of a nature which has turned out, not only to be destructive.
Goa Foundation had to go to Court on the ground the government violated the fundamental spirit of the Supreme Court order (Referred to as ‘Goa Foundation 2’), (‘manage their affairs and wind up their operations’) and directed to stop all mining operations with effect from 16th March, 2018 until fresh mining leases (not fresh renewals or other renewals) are granted and fresh environmental clearances are granted.
It was mentioned in court and by the court that the government construed this direction as a full liberty to such mining lease holders to carry out excavation of ore till 15 March 2018, pay royalty on the same and transport it any time after 15 March 2018.
So what is really the take away of this, ratified by the Court. Simply that after mining leases – with all intents and purposes – ceased to exist there were concerted moves made, with the connivance of the State, to keep the operations and wheels of a sector, ordered to be shut down, to keep moving. And the confidence to do this stemmed from years of “working together”.
Therefore, inspite of several court orders and minute monitoring of the mining landscape, the narrative which has been put out is that the stoppage of mining has led to devastation and livelihood losses. The human impact cannot be completely denied because villages and communities were built and nurtured in the middle of and in the periphery of mining areas. But what is very neatly omitted from this debate is that the extent of mining and the growth of the mining communities, which grew in a different era and in a different time, when the activity was controlled, the exploitation of the land was within legal limits and most importantly there were no illegalities.
It is in this universe that mining communities grew and so did the dependency of mining as a source of livelihood. It is important to understand that this universe expanded, out of greed, manifold times bringing with it the avarice of traders, new mining firms as well the expansion of the older ones, in the mad race to extract at will from the earth and export when the going was good.
It is then that rampant violations started and the sector ceased to be responsible one and transform itself into a rogue sector. Therefore it is not the State or the Supreme Court or even environmental activist Claude Alvares who shut down mining and livelihoods. The transformation of controlled mining into the roguish monstrosity it went on to become, made it untenable for any civilized state or its pillars (the judiciary and the media importantly) to allow this to continue any longer.
And a little dip into the journey of degradation needs to begin when it all began. Prior to 1961, the then Portuguese Government had granted certain mining concessions in perpetuity to concessionaires.
The Goa, Daman and Diu Mining Concessions (Abolition and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act, 1987 came into effect on 20 December 1961, declaring that every mining concession will be deemed to be a mining lease granted under the MMDR Act. These leases continued to function till it spun totally out of control.
In fact the draft mining policy of the State of acknowledged that “there were illegalities and irregularities and that the State had witnessed the peak of chaotic and unregulated mining without any concern for the fragile ecology and environment of the State or for the general well being of the average Goan. It was acknowledged that the State had witnessed reckless exploitation without any concern for sustainability. It was also emphasized that the minerals are a finite and non-renewable resource and while permitting its extraction, the State will have to tread cautiously, promoting a sustainable extraction regime to facilitate systematic, scientific and planned utilization of mineral resources.”
If this was indeed how the State planned its policy, then how were the actions on the ground, of all governments starting with the Congress government at the peak of the mining boom and ending with the order allowing mining transportation of ore extracted from expired leases, totally contrary to every word in the preamble of the draft mining policy?
The renewal of 88 mining leases is a case in point. The Supreme Court ruled there was no question of grant of renewal, and mandated that there can only be fresh leases according to law. The Supreme Court observed that the State of Goa showed undue haste, gave impression that it was willing to sacrifice the rule of law for the benefit of the mining lease holders. Here’s how. The lease holders who had already paid the stamp duty and for those who had not paid the stamp duty; the State of Goa “was directed to decide their renewal applications”. The High Court did not order that even those leases had to be renewed. That was the government’s decision, not the court’s directive.
What is also of concern is that while the axis of opposition to the shutdown of mining revolves around lost livelihoods, there are no takers for human causes and needs in the mining belt which genuinely needs attention, water for instance.
The High Court in its order of May 4, Friday sated “Why we refer to it, is because simultaneously we are hearing other public interest litigations in respect of the mining affected villages. These villages have suffered severe air pollution due to mining, the natural streams have been polluted and dried up and many do not have water to drink. In these petition, there was absolute lack of any response from the State. At first there were simple denials that problem is not serious. We had to pass series of orders over a period of four months just to ensure that the State takes steps to provide drinking water to these villages”.
The entire experience of the battle, literally with the State as much as with the mining companies, is that the judiciary had to intervene frequently to now reach a stage where it is only the power of the judiciary which is holding up Goa’s rampant destruction. And the Court is acutely aware of this. “We had to literally push the State on every date to do something to alleviate the suffering of the innocent mining affected. This sharp contrast in the State response in respect of these two ends of mining spectrum, the Mining Affected and the Mining Beneficiaries, is too stark for us not to notice”, the High court said in its order.
This distinction is significant. The Court is clearly saying that when it came to “mining beneficiaries” (those who earned livelihoods from mining), the State responded to help them with alacrity. But when it came to the mining affected, whose environment got corroded, whose water tables got deleted, the state had to be goaded to act by the Court.
What will change now, hopefully is that the focus will once again move back to the people and the mining affected and not just the mining dependent. And above all, the land should be allowed to breathe before there are any signs of a new beginning of sustainable mining in the offing.