Herald: Can mining travel far without environment?

Can mining travel far without environment?

06 Jan 2019 06:11am IST

Report by
Praveena Sharma

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06 Jan 2019 06:11am IST

Report by
Praveena Sharma

Any bid to revive mining without weeding out its deep-rooted environmental and social malaise will only be a short term cure to what plagues the sector. It will perhaps be important to overhaul the mining laws which could help sort issues

Politicians are cranking up the decibel level for resumption of mining in the state.  It’s been eight months since the Supreme Court (SC) ordered against the renewal of 88 mining leases. Over this period, the only solution the Goa’s Assembly could come up with is to look at altering the old mining laws. And this game plan is also at the mercy of the Centre, more specifically Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The matter has assumed urgency due to the impending general election. And so the pressure from the state on Modi has started building. It is interesting to observe that all parties are talking in one voice on the issue.  

Why Goa’s mining sector has always enjoyed political support is a no-brainer. It is because it is a very important part of its political economy, and election spending of every party heavily hinges on what it can do for this over-two-century-old industry.

The question is; will tweaking the Goa, Daman and Diu Mining Concessions (Abolition and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act and the Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act solve this deep-rooted problem?

It will only kick the can further down the road.  What will altering Goa, Daman and Diu Mining Concessions (Abolition and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act do? It will only give a brief lease of life to the closed mines by allowing them to be operational till 2037. The revision of the second law will do the same. 

None of the major stakeholders in the game are looking at lasting solutions. The current mining crisis has been born from this callous disregard for its overall ecosystem.  

Justice Shah Commission, which was appointed under Section 3 of Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952 by the Central government in 2010 to study the illegal mining in Goa, had in its report noted “inaction, delayed action and mild actions have created fearless atmosphere, abuse of law and regulations in the Goa state”.

It had very lucidly stated how authorities had colluded to let illegal mining flourish under its watch and had also highlighted extensive violation of environmental law. The manner in which Environmental Clearances (ECs) for mines were issued revealed how severe the system degradation was.   

The Commission’s report, tabled in Parliament on September 7, 2012, stated Goa had not only lost Rs35,000-crore revenue in 12-year (between 2000 and 2012) but its environment has been “grievously, and probably irretrievably, damaged from the operation of mines in ecologically fragile zones”.

The basis of the apex court’s ruling in 2012 was the Shah Commission’s report. But since then to now, not much has been done to correct the flawed regulations of the sector.  There’s only been impudent effort to walk around the law, instead walking on the line of law.   

The narrative has now shifted to mining dependent protesting against the closure. The claim is their livelihood has been affected. There’s also some noise about the revenue loss to the state. 

In this context, a recently done study by Dr Aswini Kumar Mishra of BITS Pillani K K Birla Goa, shows that the percentage contribution of mineral sector to the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) had risen from 4.42% in 2004-05 to 19.87% in 2010-11 at the 2004-05 current prices. However, after the mining ban, its contribution plummeted to 4.16% in 2013-14.

Dr Mishra’s report – Mining Closure, Economic Disruption and Local Level Sustainability: A Case Study of Goa – also reveals the highest royalty earned by the Goa government of Rs941.12 crore was in 2011-12. After the shutdown of mines, it fell to Rs328.02 crore the next year, only to tumble to Rs36.5 crore and Rs48.38 crore in 2013-14 and 2014-15 respectively.

There are also some discrepancies in the number of direct and indirect mining dependents being thrown around by various agencies.  This figure varies from 50,000 to 3.5 lakh. The estimate of National Council of Applied Economic Research or NCAER, which was commissioned by Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association or GMOEA, puts the mining employment number at 30,000 and indirect employment – trucks, barges and other mining related activities – at 45,000. 

In contrast to this data, the Economic and Political Weekly’s estimate pegs the total employment (direct and indirect) at 22,314 in 2004-05. This is way below NCAER-GMOEA’s figure of 75,000. If you take just the real core employment – mining stops during the rains – this number further shrinks to 5,500.

Since iron ore exports had peaked in 2010-11, employment number of 2004-05 can be doubled. It then touches a total employment of about 45,000 and core employment of 11,000. 

The plight of mining dependent and their future have now become the ground on which resumption of mining operation is being demanded. It’s threatening to create ripples during Modi’s visit on January 12. The Goa Mining People’s Front (GMPF) is reportedly planning to hold a Parivartan Yatra in the mining region of the state. 

These tactics are being used to apply pressure from all sides to restart mining activity, sidestepping the real issue of largescale irregularities in the sector. Any bid to revive mining without weeding out its deep-rooted environmental and social malaise will only be a short term cure to what plagues the sector. 

Mishra’s report suggests: “If mining is to happen, enabling conditions need to be created and put in place to ensure that local communities benefit from these projects from the start and through the life, and after, of the mine”.

To attain this objective, the study calls for an overhaul of the existing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) with a bigger focus on impacts faced by communities. It suggests amendment of 2006 EIA circular by the Ministry of Environment and Forest to mandate extensive and detailed consideration of community impacts. 

The study also suggests freeing the funding of EIA report by any institution to enhance its credibility, and believes consideration or implementation of new projects should be more comprehensive. 

Other corrective measures for improving allocation and operations of mines include stricter oversight of existing mines and higher emphasis on Intergenerational Equity (IE) and environmental carrying capacity.

“For this, there is a need for much more attention on social, environmental and health impacts of mining and implications of resource demands of mining vis-à-vis the rights and needs of local people,” says the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR)-sponsored research.

The tone of the report is crisp and clear; the only way forward is to ensure that mining, environmental, social considerations go hand in hand. 

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