Goa chief minister orders resumption of mining in 27 lease areas

State government plans to start mining from lease areas which were deemed illegal by the Supreme Court, allege activists

 
By Anupam Chakravartty
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

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Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar announced in the state Legislative Assembly earlier this week that at least 27 iron ore mining leases, for which stamp duty had been paid, would be renewed by October 15. He said that the renewal would be on condition that the mining companies that hold the leases pay the cess levied for iron ore extraction for the period 2007-2012. He indicated that mining activities are likely to be resumed by December 2014.

Activists have questioned the move, citing a Supreme Court order of April, saying all the mining leases operating in Goa, which got an extension after 2007, are illegal.

The chief minister's announcement follows an order of Bombay High Court. On August 14, the court while hearing a petition filed by the mining companies of Goa, had directed the state government to renew the lease deeds in favour of mining companies that had paid the stamp duty as per mining rules.

Environmental activists from Goa are now planning to challenge the high court order in the light of Supreme Court’s earlier order. The Supreme Court order followed a indicting report by Justice M B Shah Commission, which pegged the losses to exchequer due to illegal mining at Rs 35,000 crore.

In a letter to Goa Assembly, Parrikar stated the government was considering four options for restarting mining in Goa: direct auction through competitive bidding route; undertaking mining through a state corporation; grant leases under Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, in which preferred mining companies would be selected under the provision stated in the Act; renew leases which have been pending since 2006.

However, after the order of Bombay High Court, Parrikar told local media that government was left with no choice but to renew some of the existing leases by collecting the stamp duty.

Though Goa was under a mining ban from 2012, the Department of Mines and Geology recovered about Rs 900 crore from the sector; Rs 400 crore came from the conversion fees charged from mining companies for illegally dumping ore on agricultural land, Rs 430 crore from renewal of mining leases and another Rs 100 crore.

From this, about Rs 100 crore went towards relief to mining affected people, officials said. “Part of this money was used to pay salaries, part for infrastructure and part to pay off old debts of the previous government,” an official said. The government expects to get a maximum of Rs 1,500 crore through the auction of 15.3 million tonnes of ore in dumps in Goa.

Claude Alvarez of Goa Foundation has questioned the state for compensating mining-dependent people. “Why is this money not recovered from the windfall profits of the mining companies? In contrast to Goa government, which earned Rs 2,387 crore as royalty over eight years of mining, the mining companies earned profits in excess of Rs 35,000 crore,” he told Goa Herald. “What have the mining companies provided in terms of relief to mining-dependent persons, especially truckers and barge owners, from their profits?”

The activist also questioned the amount proposed to be recovered from those who have resorted to illegal mining in view of the Supreme Court judgement on mining after November 22, 2007 without a valid lease. “Compare it with the Rs 145 crore per annum that the state will receive as royalty from the 27 leases that the state wants to renew. Is this in the public interest?” he asked.

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