Will the Bellary prescription work for Goa?
The Codli mines in South Goa resemble large amphitheatres flanked by flights of steps. Till a few months ago, excavators and earthmovers could be seen here tearing into the crust to scoop out red earth that contained high concentrations of iron ore. Tipper trucks would then transport it to Murmugao and Panaji ports from where ships ferried the ore to destinations like China. Today the whir of turning wheels is missing in Codli. The mines, owned by one of the country’s biggest mining firms Sesa Goa, are waiting like 138 others for the Supreme Court order to resume mining.
The ban is not only on mining. Companies cannot even sell their iron ore stocks. “We have three million tonnes of iron ore lying but cannot sell it until the court allows,” says Joseph Coelho, manager of the Codli mines.
Mining activities had come to a halt in Goa much before the Supreme Court ban. The state government dealt the first blow. In September 2012, days after a commission headed by Justice M B Shah submitted its report to Parliament citing illegalities in all mines in Goa, the government temporarily suspended mining activities in the state. That month, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued a direction under Section 5 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986, to suspend environmental clearances of all 139 mines in Goa.
The Supreme Court order came in October 2012, following a petition by Goa Foundation, a non-profit working on ecological issues. It ordered that the mine leases, found violating the norms by the Shah Commission, should be suspended and asked its Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to investigate the illegalities.
Goa has also set up its own inquiry committee under retired judge R M S Khandeparkar to investigate the Shah Commission report.
Justifying the new committee, Goa’s deputy chief minister Francis Dsouza says, “The question is whether the apex court should have stopped all the mines. Legal mines should not have been shut as the livelihood of a large number of people is at stake.” Goa today finds itself caught between livelihood concerns and sustainable use of resources. With no solution in sight, the state could be handed down a model recently introduced 400 kilometres away in Karnataka.
There is a constant fear that the model pronounced in the Supreme Court judgement for reopening mines in Bellary could be used in Goa.
R K Verma, principal secretary of Goa’s mines department, says Bellary lost two years trying to take a decision on ways to resume mining. A similar term could be disastrous for Goa. Verma offers an alternative way: “We will book all illegal people, but legal operations should be allowed to resume as soon as possible.”
Atul Jhadav, president of Goa Barge Owners’ Association, explains: If the Bellary model is applied to Goa, most mines would fall in category C. The Supreme Court has cancelled leases of category C mines in Bellary because of highest number of illegalities, including dumping of overburden (soil removed to extract the minerals) outside the mine lease areas. Most mines in Goa dump their overburden outside the lease area, Jhadav says.
Besides, mining is the backbone of Goan economy, says Nilesh Cabral, MLA from Curchorem in South Goa.
Dharamaduda village is a few kilometres from Codli mines. About 80 per cent of the 12,000-odd population in this village earned their livelihood from these mines. Apart from direct employment, several residents in Dharamaduda own tipper trucks that ferried iron ore from the mines. Some worked as drivers and helpers in the trucks, while the others opened shops and eateries around the mines. Guru B Gaonkar, sarpanch of Dharamdauda, says a petrol pump set up in the village to fuel trucks used to pay tax to the village panchayat, depending on its business. It hardly contributes now. “We understand that mining creates pollution and traffic problems, but it is a trade off we are ready to accept,” says Gaonkar. He wants mines to be reopened as people from his village are migrating to distant places in search of work.
State government figures show in 2009-10, revenue from mining contributed 13.5 per cent to the state’s GDP. This is on a par with the hotel and the tourism industry. This apart, the industry claims that mining provides direct and indirect employment to nearly 300,000 people, or half of the state’s workforce.
Those who have lost their livelihoods now question why they are being punished when the fault lies elsewhere. “We were never involved in any illegal activity,” says William D’costa of Barge Owners’ Association. Most barges have loans of Rs 5 crore to Rs 6 crore attached to them. “Without mining we are unable to pay installments to the banks that are now sending us notices,” he adds. The association has written to the Reserve Bank of India and the state government to grant relief in loan repayment.
The ban has impacted almost every household in Goa because the breadwinners are associated either with mining or the Murmugao Port Trust, says P M Pandiyan, chairperson of the trust. Since iron ore exports comprised 80 per cent of the port’s operation, commercial activity has come to a standstill. Last year, this profit-making venture accrued a loss of Rs 108 crore. It was its first loss in history. The trust has asked the state to step in, Pandiyan informs.
The stakeholders of Goa’s iron ore mining sector do not want to give up easily. They have united to form the Goa Mining People’s Front (GMPF).
Christopher Fonseca of GMPF says 30 per cent of the state’s population has been jobless for eight months. “Environment is important but the government should think about our livelihoods too.” The state government has offered a year-long monetary compensation scheme for those who lost their livelihood because of the ban (see ‘Cushion for ban’).
Subhash Phaldesai, MLA from mining belt of Sanguem, says this is not enough. Claude Alvares, executive director of Goa Foundation, says the government should instead compensate those who have been displaced after their farmlands have been destroyed by pollution from mining. “The mineral does not belong to the government. It belongs to the people of Goa. But our assets are being destroyed, while a handful make merry,” he adds.
Plunder, then ponder
The reason for Alvares’ resentment can be found in the Shah Commission’s report. It points to a number of illegalities, including mining without licence, mining outside lease area, production of ore beyond permitted capacity, and illegal transportation. CEC’s interim report submitted in December 2012 reiterates most of these findings but presses for a detailed survey.
One of the most serious concerns recorded by both the Shah Commission and CEC is a mismatch between production and export figures of iron ore from Goa. Data submitted to CEC by the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) and exporter’s association shows about 40 million tonnes of iron ore was exported illegally over a five-year period (see ‘Illegality in excess’ on p35). Mining companies say the additional exported ore came from overburden dumps.
Earlier, IBM classified ore with less than 55 per cent iron content as overburden, which does not have much market demand. In 2009, it lowered the threshold value to 45 per cent. Overburden does not meet IBM threshold but it may still contain a significant amount of iron. Royalty need not be paid for overburden if it is not sold, says Mineral Concession Rules of 1960. But if it is sold or exported then a tax has to be paid to the state. A senior official of IBM says before selling this overburden, the state should be informed, which should ideally verify the quality and quantity of iron content and ascertain the royalty to be paid.
Industry insiders say the state mines department usually does not inspect what the industry sells from the overburden. This gives the industry the leeway to export good quality iron ore as overburden and evade royalty. Mining companies in Goa used this leeway to benefit from the soaring demand in the international market that peaked in run up to the Beijing Olympics and continued even after the Games.
A check on illegal shipping of minerals came only in 2010, after the state government made it mandatory for the companies to get a no-objection certificate from the mines department to export iron ore after paying royalty.
Overburden of controversies
Such illegality is at the helm of a recent spat between the state and the Centre over the authority to give permission for export of overburden.
MoEF and the Union Ministry of Mines (MoM) claim it is the Centre’s prerogative to give permission for export of overburden. Responding to one such claim in March 2011, Goa opined that environmental clearance is not required to remove minerals from overburden dumps. But in October 2011, MoM wrote back asking for necessary measures to prevent passing off of illegally extracted ore as overburden.
In July 2012, MoM again wrote to the state government that overburden handling, or removal of ore from overburden, for exports has an environmental impact and hence requires environmental clearance. The Goa government replied that overburden handling was stopped in September 2011.
On the very day Shah Commission’s report was tabled in Parliament, MoM asked the state to ban removal of ore from overburden lying outside the lease area till an appropriate mechanism is evolved. This points to the fact that the authorities, both at the Centre and the state, were aware of these illegalities.
S Sridhar, executive director of Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association, has another concern. IBM does not allow mine lease holders to store overburden in mineralisation zone (areas that contain minerals). Given that mine leases in Goa are right next to each other, the only option is to keep them outside the lease area, he adds.
Most mine owners in Goa started operating during the Portuguese period. Under the Portuguese Colonial Mining law the maximum size of a Goa mine is 100 ha and the mines are contiguous.
IBM officials explain that they discourage dumping on mineralisation zone as it leads to locking up of minerals for future. Verma says dumping outside the lease area requires permission from the revenue department because of changes in land use. “In some cases this permission was obtained, but most ignored this requirement.”
There is no way out for the mine owners in Goa. Ambar Timblo, managing director of Fomento Resources, says the authorities were aware of the problem all along. “We always show our overburden dumps whether inside or outside the mine correctly to MoEF, IBM and the state pollution control board.”
Down To Earth analysed a few environmental clearances granted by MoEF. None of the clearances mentioned whether the overburden should be stored within the mine lease area. All it says is “overburden shall be stacked at earmarked dump site(s) only and shall not be kept active for long periods”.
| Whose buffer is it anyway?
The Wildlife Conservation Strategy of January 2002 states that area within 10 km of the boundary of a national park or a sanctuary should be notified as eco-fragile zone. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) asked states to submit their proposals notifying these areas. But in 2005, the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) decided that the eco-sensitive zone should be site-specific, following which MoEF again informed states about the change. In 2006 the Supreme Court ordered that all projects within 10 km of national parks and sanctuaries should go to NBWL for clearance, until the eco-sensitive zones were notified. Supreme Court’s advisory body, Central Empowered Committee, stepped in and classified the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the country into six categories based on their area (see table). MoEF disagrees with this classification and has stuck to its original 10 km definition. R K Verma, principal secretary of Goa’s mines department, says, “The buffer zone should be site-specific and wherever possible, should be confined to natural barriers like rivers.”
Even if one goes by Verma’s definition, there is ambiguity over who is the competent authority to approve projects in buffer zones. MoEF in May 2011, wrote to Goa’s Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW), clarifying that NBWL is the only authority to approve mining in the buffer zone. Approvals for mining within buffer without placing them before NBWL also violate the 2006 Supreme Court order. But more than 100 iron ore mining leases, including Sesa Goa’s Codli mines, have clearance only from CWW, though they fall in the buffer zone. “Our interpretation of the order in terms of competent authority was CWW. So we approached it for approval. Now with MoEF saying 10 km, this is clearly a grey area. This needs to be resolved urgently so that we know where we stand,” says Ambar Timblo of Fomento Resources.
Now the state mining department has asked all mining companies to declare dumps with location, quantity and quality of the stock. “We estimate that there is 700 million tonnes of overburden. The department will now scrutinise these in detail,” says Verma. The Goa government now plans to auctions this overburden. From ecological point of view, overburden dump handling is important in Goa as its mining belt is close to major wildlife areas.
The iron ore-rich eastern Goa is also home to six wildlife sanctuaries and a national park. The CEC report says MoEF has cleared 20 mining leases within the sanctuaries. This contravenes the February 2000 order of the Supreme Court, which prohibits mining leases within national parks and sanctuaries, and applies retrospectively. Violating the December 2006 order of the apex court, MoEF has approved another 23 mines within one kilometre of the sanctuaries. CEC, in its interim report, has recommended quashing all the 43 permissions, identifying those responsible for the approvals and initiating action against them.
It is not just MoEF, the state is also to be blamed for such illegalities. Of the 120 mining leases cleared by MoEF, 112 are located within 10 km of protected wildlife habitats. Many of them have approvals only from Goa’s Chief Wildlife Warden. This is when the apex court in its 2006 order had observed that the standing committee of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) of MoEF had to peruse and approve all environmental clearances for projects located within 10 km of protected wildlife habitats. There is confusion over the competent authority to clear activities in this zone (see ‘Whose buffer is it anyway?’).
CEC’s interim report states “MoEF by its various actions and inactions de facto ensured mining operations in a large number of leases continue to take place in violation of directions of this Hon’ble Court.” CEC thus recommends that all environmental clearances granted to mines within the 10 km buffer be suspended and scrutinised by NBWL. The court can then decide their fate based on NBWL’s recommendation.
The way ahead
What does Goa have to look forward to given that illegal mining has taken its toll not only on its ecology but also on economy?
Mining in Goa may not start for the next five years, say Alvares. “We have foolishly stuck to our heritage of mining.” He says if Goa ends up like Karnataka, mining should be capped at 10 MTPA. Timblo says it is unlikely that production will start soon and the cap on production will be the new model of mining in Goa. Managing director of Sesa Goa, P K Mukherjee, refuses to comment on this subjudice case but says his only concern is about his employees. Verma hopes that conditions are not too stringent, like in Bellary.
CEC has recommended a model similar to that of Bellary, where an environment impact assessment and reclamation and rehabilitation plan need to be prepared by Indian Council for Forest Research and Education. It has also suggested a block-wise cap for mining.
But is the Bellary formula the right template for the rest of the country? Can it bring order to the iron ore mining industry?
With inputs from Srestha Banerjee