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Fifteen million tonnes of iron ore extracted and exported from the state illegally in last six years
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), led by leader of opposition Manohar Parrikar, has blown the lid off probably the biggest mining scam of all times in Goa.
It has found that almost half of the active iron ore mines in the state were illegal and have caused an estimated loss of Rs 3,000 crore to the exchequer since 2005. The PAC will table its report in the legislative Assembly on October 6.
“There are several illegalities in the mines operated in Goa. There are multiple ways in which illegal mining is being carried,” says Parrikar. One of them is exporting iron ore without paying any royalty to the government, he adds. “We have found that around 15 million tonnes of iron ore were extracted and exported from Goa illegally over last six years,” he adds. The loss is calculated on the basis of the iron ore rates in the international market in 2005 which was around US $50 per tonne. “The loss will increase manifold if the calculations are based on the current price of US $ 180 per tonne,” he adds. The total exports during 2005 were 26 tonnes which went up to 45 tonnes by March 2011.
Parrikar alleged that everyone in the government, right from low ranking officials to ministers were involved in illegal mining. “Thorough investigations must be done to book all those involved,” Parrikar adds. He also refuted charges of leaking the report before it is tabled in the Assembly. “I cannot understand how the report which is not ready could be leaked. The report has still not been finalised. The figures are quoted from the Comptroller Auditor General’s (CAG) report, based on which, PAC is investigating illegal mining.”
According to Parrikar, 32 of the 54 working iron ore mines in forest areas do not have the mandatory clearances under conservation laws.
“Official records also show 21 mines operating within the 10 km protected zone around wildlife sanctuaries without environmental clearances. Nearly 1.4 lakh trees have been cleared to make way for mines in forest areas,” Parrikar says. The law mandates that four times the forest cover lost to mining be compensated through reforestation. The state, though, has undertaken only 2.5 per cent afforestation.
Meanwhile, the state mines and geology department, has summoned all iron traders registered with it, to verify the source of iron ore procured and exported by them. Sources say around 405 traders have been issued notices under the Goa Mineral Illegal Storage, Transportation and Trading Act of 2004.
“The authorities should also investigate illegal export of mining reject which is twice the quantity of iron ores exported from the state. Several thousand tonnes of overburden has been illegally exported from Goa,” says Gaurav Shirodkar, field investigator of the Western Ghats Cell. He points that even to transport the overburden from its site, the mine operators must obtain fresh environment clearance by submitting environment management plan and environmental impact assessment report.
Chief minister Digambar Kamat, who has been holding mining ministry for over a decade now, says he cannot be “personally responsible for the illegalities in mining in the state. It is collective responsibility of various departments”.
“As far as revenue loss is concerned, we can levy tax on the ore extracted from within the state. We cannot recover taxes from the ores extracted from mines in other states and exported from Goa port,” he adds. The truth will come out when the Shah Commission probing mining violations in the state submits its report to the Centre, he says.