In Goa, the battle royal on the streets and in the courts, over all aspects of mining has not ended after mining leases have ceased to be operational on March 16. The battle has now shifted to the transportation of ore with the firebrand Claude Alvares moving the High Court seeking to quash and set aside the decision of the government of March 21 allowing transportation of minerals post 15 March 2018.
But Alvares, of the Goa Foundation, has not stopped there and sought directions to recover amounts from the sale of minerals and deposit them in the Goa Iron Ore Permanent Fund. At hand are some crucial issues: a) Is mining transportation considered a part of “mining activity” and did the Supreme Court judgment limit itself to mining activity within the leases or did mining activity cover transportation?
Additional Solicitor General Atmaram Nadkarni, who was the Advocate General at the time the mining leases were renewed (as is still very much the go to person for all matters legal in the Goa) has stated that royalty paid ore outside the lease area can be exported, even after the stoppage of extraction on March 15.
While we wait for clarification on an issue which should have been clear, if it already isn’t, the actions of the Goa government itself indicates what its actual position was on this matter based on the order of the Mines Department.
The Mines Department issued a set of guidelines, made public on March 6, for its staff and mine owners asking them to wrap up the iron ore extraction activity, effectively by March 14.
The government stated in the note that mining lessees should stop ore extraction activity from March 13 onwards, while lease-holders are directed to move out all the movable machinery by March 15. But attention needs to be drawn to this line of the note. It reads, “They (inspecting teams of the mines department) should also be made known that no transportation shall be allowed after 6 pm of 13/03/2018.”
The interest and the irony lies in the fact that even after what happens to be a closing order on the state of Goa’s mining, paving the way for resurrection of sustainable mining, the baggage of the past dominates the mining landscape. There is no fresh beginning, there is no moving on and the fight is over fundamentals because it is in the fundamentals that business lies. After all is done and dusted, the battle is still over the transportation of ore after March 16, when all mining activity had to cease.
What is surprising and even shocking is why has it still not been finally settled whether transportation is considered a part of mining activity or is an allied activity which can take place even though activities within the mining lease area which also includes winning the mineral. The surprise here is that after 60 years of mining post liberation, stakeholders still need to go to court to seek a clarification on this. Precedents, court observations and ground level common sense should have decided the matter.
Shouldn’t this then be matter of investigation, as to how this specific order of stoppage of ore transportation was over-turned? It is pertinent to point out the senior minister and member of Cabinet Advisory Committee, Francis D Souza, told reporters that he had directed the Chief Secretary to ask the Mines Department to allow transportation. And if the initial order was incorrect, then someone has to be accountable for that action too.
And this is without prejudice to any litigation that Goa Foundation wants to undertake. The issues that have been sought to be raised in the main petition which will be heard on April 11 touches upon areas beyond the immediate issue of ore transportation. It seeks declaration from the government that all mineral ore, transported in Goa from mining areas, include outside the lease area from March 16, 2018 belongs to the State of Goa and is a public resource. And the challenge further is that any such transport of ore, including those outside lease areas is in violation of the Apex court judgment, for, the petitioner argues, that under the guise of transport “unchecked activities may go on”. The apprehension is genuine. Can we forget the actual theft of ore by mining traders and transporters between 2009 and 2011 when the government and Mines Department slept, through this daylight dacoity?
At the same there is another issue of the State government directing “lease holders” to continue to supply water to agricultural fields after mining activity has been closed, thereby making a case for the presence and occupation of the lease areas by the hitherto lease holders. This too will face a challenge because this direction makes the situation totally piquant where those whose leases have expired, are being asked to continue to supply water from there, for agricultural purposes. This is beyond even comical. It’s bizarre.
Let’s broad base the issue now. Therefore, the issue at hand is two-fold. For far too long, decisions involving the process of mining have been taken with a degree of non-chalance because the government and the powerful stakeholders of the mining sector have been cohorts. Secondly post the judgment March 2014, popularly known as the Shah Commission mining judgment, the corrective measures needed to clean the landscape have rarely been visible and effective on all aspects mining transportation and pollution.
A re-reading of the second paragraph of the February 7, 2018 judgment of the Apex Court, reiterating even more vociferously what it had done in March 2014, is the strongest proof you will ever need that the landscape hasn’t really changed.
“Effective implementation and in some instances circumvention of the mining and environment related laws is a tragedy in itself. Laxity and sheer apathy to the rule of law gives mining lease holders a field day, being the primary beneficiaries, with the state being left with some crumbs in the form of royalty. For the state to generate adequate revenue through the mining sector and yet have sustainable and equitable development, the implementation machinery needs tremendous amount of strengthening while the law enforcement machinery needs strict vigilance. Unless the two marry, we will continue to be mute witnesses to the plunder of our natural resources, and left wondering how to retrieve an irretrievable situation.”
The weight of this paragraph is so intense that every time there is any doubt or confusion about any roadblock or crisis in Goa’s mining, these words of the Supreme Court will have all the answers.
The landscape needs to change to an extent when it will not matter who is carrying out the extraction as long as the fundamental ownership of mineral resources is established and a regime of tight monitoring and control and prevention of loot, is in place. We need a regime which will not allow fly by night traders with fake addresses, who transported illegal ore on the basis of fake royalty challans.
Finally we need a mining regime which will do only one deal and that is with the people of Goa, to protect the misuse and loot of the states resources.