It’s difficult to put a finger on this. Is it apathy, or sheer negligence, or incompetence, or lack of will? Or is it something more, the unwillingness to part with crucial finds deposited by mining companies for the welfare of mining affected areas. Which begs the question, what are the custodians of the District Mineral Funds, planning to do with the Rs 180 crore in their kitty? Till the High Court came down heavily on them the answer to this would have been “Nothing”.
And the big worry is that those who are supposed to govern the mining sector, haven’t asked these questions. The court has. And it is the High Court which has, quite honestly, been shocked and amazed at the apathy of an administration, which has a fund with a clear mandate to dispense it for activities which are spelt out in black and white.
The Director of Mines has confirmed that Rs 93.722 crore has been received until 14 March in the North Goa fund and Rs 86.278 crore in the South Goa fund. The total amount in the District Mineral Foundation Fund for the State of Goa is Rs 180 crore. But hardly anything has been spent towards the welfare of mining affected villages and people.
The District Mineral Foundation, set up under the Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 has the sole purpose of carrying out work for the interest and benefit of the persons and the areas affected by mining operations. This purpose has not only NOT been achieved, but there appears to be no intent to using these funds for the purpose of which they are meant for. A surprised High Court had to go to the extent of directing the Government to actually start advertising that there are funds available with the foundation to be utilised for the benefit of those who need it in the mining areas, a clear case where the Court has had to direct the government to carry out an executive action, which it should have carried out in its normal course of functioning.
Interestingly, the High Court in a Public Interest Petition filed to ensure the utilisation of funds to solve the drinking water crisis, among other things in the Sonshi village of North Goa has gone into the background of the members of the fund.
Members of the Foundation need to have knowledge in the field of mining, engineering, medicine, forest, wildlife, agriculture, biodiversity, rural development and planning. In its order Dated March 28, in the petition filed by Goa Foundation, the bench of Justices Prithviraj Chavan and NM Jamdar observed and indicated how the foundation has been created in a skewed manner.
“The Director of Mines & Geology is appointed as Member Secretary and almost all members are private persons. The Chairman of the South Goa Foundation is a Member of Legislative Assembly. It is surprising that for handling such huge public funds State has not framed Rules setting up a committee of officers in ex-officio capacity, as is generally done in such matters,” the Bench observed.
Meanwhile the rules drawn for the creation of the Foundation lay down as many as 30 functions of the DMF, a detailed list, underlining the importance of grass-root activities, the fund is empowered to sustain.
Some of the thirty functions include: restoring the ecology damaged by mining, providing health facilities, education, building a road/bridge network, de-silting of water bodies including dams and rivers, installing pollution control devices, sewage, providing required assistance in agriculture, horticulture, dairy farming, animal husbandry, developing alternate sources of irrigation, developing alternate sources of energy and rainwater harvesting system and critically, supplying drinking water, providing health care and education.
But clearly, these functions appear to be only on paper with the administration seemingly giving up on them. This is what Justices Chavan and NM Jamdar mentioned in their March 28 order, underlying that the state of affairs were “SHOCKING”
“The Notification regarding District Mineral Foundations for North Goa District and South Goa District was issued on 30 November 2017, which was published in official gazette on 7 December 2017. We passed further orders on 5 March 2018 and 7 March 2018, in respect of Sonshi village since there was serious problem of drinking water. On 7 March 2018, we had directed the State to file affidavit as regards the particulars of the District Mineral Foundation and the funds. Thus, at this stage, on 23 March 2018, the Foundations held their first meeting. Obviously, therefore, prior to 23 March 2018, nothing has been done by these Foundations. This state of affairs is shocking, to say the least.
It didn’t stop there. And this is what the court added:
‘The mining affected cannot be made to toil for the benefits which are rightfully theirs and in whose name hundreds of crores of rupees are collected by the Foundations’
It also mentioned: We are told that the amounts are invested, but we have not been informed where they are invested. Village after Village affected by mining is approaching us for something as basic as drinking water.
The court too asked the Additional Government advocate for an explanation “for such colossal neglect”, but none was forthcoming, and concluded with words that were no less than a resounding slap. The justices stated, ‘We are at loss for words to describe the apathy’.
And to cap it, the Court has issued directions clearly indicating where the government seems to have failed. These are the highlights of the order passed:
- State Government to give particulars where and which accounts the amount of Rs 180 crore has been invested
- Mineral Foundations will not disburse any amount above Rs Two lakh from the District Mineral Foundation Fund, without informing the Chief Secretary in writing
- Collector of both the Districts asked to attend the meetings of District Mineral Foundation Funds in their respective jurisdiction & apprise the Court of the development and decisions taken in the said Committee meetings
There clearly has been no effort to inform the public about the foundation, its benefits and the funds available with it, forcing the Court to order the Foundation to issue advertisements in leading dailies within two weeks and to be repeated till July this year.
If the order of the High Court, no less, of March 28, is any indication, the entire executive machinery which runs the Mining Department headed by Director Mines, have no justification in holding on to their positions. It’s an indictment of the highest proportions.
There is no pain greater than to see regions of Goa without water, or schools or agriculture while Rs 180 crores of money collected for the very purposes, is not just unutilised, but almost hidden from the people.