It’s an elephant that never leaves the room. It’s a bone which is stuck. It’s that errant child who goes through adolescence, youth, adulthood and then old age, carrying with him the burden of being perpetually found or perceived to be on the wrong side and it has a strange relationship with sections of the family.
Goa’s mining sector (it is not listed as an industry by the way) is the elephant, the bone and the errant child. But in the aftermath of the latest body blow by the Supreme Court, cancelling the renewal of 88 leases, effected by the Goa government in 2015 following a High Court order, it is imperative that Goa takes a look at who really is the elephant, the errant child or the bone in the neck. Quite simply there are three questions or choices that need to be answered before going into the legal, historical and ground positions. And these are: a) Does Goa need mining and this has to be viewed and assessed from a 360 degree angle, b) If Goa does need mining then how different should that mining be because there is absolutely no doubt that the current landscape of mining cannot be the foundation for the start of a different kind of mining and c) If Goa accepts that a different kind of mining is needed, do we have the same miners, or different miners or does that State take over mining completely with the objective of mineral resources being in the control of people from which they accrue profits.
Before we begin, let us look at the position on ground zero as of today. The 88 leases whose renewals were completed by January 12, 2015, will be functional till March 16, 2018 post which they revert back to their status pre-renewal, which effectively makes them void. These mining companies find themselves literally pushed out of the mining landscape, with the additional burden of paying for illegal mining operations of the investigations. They can still transport ore they have extracted but there will be questions asked legally on the legality of that ore if the renewals are cancelled and whether this effectively means that they stand to be illegal from the day they originally expired. Post March 16, effectively speaking, there will be no leases in operation barring very interestingly 9 leases out of the 97 identified for renewal. These 9, by virtue of not being renewed, are in the status of the yet to be decided category and still can function as their previous status quo will be maintained.
Coming to the three moot questions that we will consider, we begin with a) Is mining required? At this juncture a deep look at the history of mining, the livelihoods it has sustained and the revenue it has generated, has been addressed enough. But it has never quite been looked at from the view of utilising mineral resources – and not just iron ore – that are meant to be utilised.
The anger and outrage and against mining companies has totally clouded the narrative of sustainable exploitation of mineral resources owned by the land and for the ultimate benefit of the people, with mining contractors getting the price of extraction and allied businesses for transportation. Once we approach the winning of mineral resources as an honourable objective the stigma attached to mining goes. The people of Goa must realise that if the taint goes through sustainable winning of resources, mining won’t be looked at as loot. So that’s step one.
Now we move to the next question. If Goa does need mining then how different should that mining be? Before we do that let’s get a glimpse of the mess we are and were in.
According to a Human Rights Watch report on Goa’s mining scenario “the Goa’s Mines Department tracks production figures based entirely on figures submitted by mine operators themselves. The department had only 12 technical staff as of September 2011 and Dr Hector Fernandez, the department’s senior geologist, conceded to Human Rights Watch that the government had no way of verifying whether company figures were accurate. “With this staff we cannot,” he said, “It’s impossible.” This means that the State does not actually know if mines are producing ore in excess of what they claim, thereby cheating the government out of tax revenue and royalties. Critics allege that this is precisely what has taken place. A September 2011 report by the Goa Legislature’s Public Accounts Committee detailed what it called unexplained discrepancies between production and export figures. Those could translate into steep revenue losses for the State government, since no royalties or other taxes would be paid on unreported production.
The Supreme Court in its latest judgement cancelling the leases states, “The Mineral Policy records that the State witnessed the peak of SLP (C) No. 32138 of 2015 etc. Page 55 of 101 chaotic and unregulated mining. The thought of protecting and preserving the environment, concern for the fragile ecology of Goa was far from the thoughts of the stakeholders – even the well-being of the average Goan was not taken into consideration by the stakeholders. A reading of the initial paragraphs of the Mineral Policy suggests that nothing short of rapacious mining was going on in Goa. Who were the beneficiaries of all this rapaciousness? Could all this be ignored?
So this answers the question. Anything that is not rapacious and takes the well being of the average Goan into consideration is the kind of mining needed.
Now we arrive at the most crucial aspect of the way forward. If the old stakeholders, the miners and the government were the agents of rapaciousness as borne out by the words in the Goa Mineral Policy and the Supreme Court Judgement do we need a new landscape of stakeholders?
This isn’t an easy yes or no answer simply because this cannot be a casual thread on Facebook. If we take the popular view that the current stakeholders have caused the rapaciousness and have been beneficiaries of the illness of uncontrolled mining then how are we sure that the new stakeholders will be different assuming that the new ones may be those who win auctions.
Notwithstanding the promise that auctions will be completed and the mining process started in six months, the longevity of the restoration of mining will depend on the pace of public hearings and the Environment Clearances. And ECs are obtained after mapping several ground data over months. These processes will take time and are subject to legal challenges.
Incidentally Mr Manohar Parrikar’s own PAC report on Goa’s mining as opposition leader during Digambar Kamat’s government from 2007 to 2012 found that “Environmental Impact Assessment studies have been found to be manipulated or…full of incorrect data” regarding the presence on or near mining leases of protected tribal populations; schools; agricultural fields; and water bodies.
And in an interview with Human Rights Watch as opposition leader he said, “If you are just going to give permission for every single mine, what is the point of needing permission? If every application is granted it means you are either careless or corrupt.” He also alleged that widespread corruption lay behind many of the State government’s worst oversights, saying some illegalities by miners were so conspicuous that, “this is only possible when a politician is there. It is not just incapacity. They are looking the other way.”
He will now have to adhere to the same standards and in doing so will he be able to do it in such a short span of time?
The alternate view that a section of the stakeholders are advocating is to depend on the final judgment of the Supreme Court where it has to decide whether the original allocation of mining areas were concessions granted by the Portuguese or were they abolished after Goa became a part of India. Since this involves multiple litigations being taken on board simultaneously and parallelly, a detailed explanation will be lengthy and not plausible.
Suffice to say that if the Apex Court overrules the decision to abolish mining concessions granted in perpetuity with effect from 1987 for fifty years, and not retrospectively from 1961 when Goa became a part of India, then all the leases get a life till 2037. But that is a long shot yet and involves many complexities that can be discussed in another column.
The choices, though extensive, should be made on a foundation of simplicity, equality and profit maximisation for the State and its people.
As the Apex Court itself has said, “When natural resources are made available by the State to private persons for commercial exploitation exclusively for their individual gains, the State’s endeavour must be towards maximisation of revenue returns.”
And if to achieve that the full process and time needs to be given even at the cost of a complete closure, it is a price that Goa has to pay. We are after all preparing for the next five generations. Whether the stakeholders are new or old the principals remain the same with a vital corollary. We need a universe where we win mineral resources for the people, not just extract iron ore.