SC's expert panel says limited iron ore mining can be allowed in Goa

Recommends strong regulatory mechanism should be in place before mining is resumed; industry cheers over possible lifting of one-and-a-half year-old suspension of mining in the state

By Srestha Banerjee
Published: Monday 17 August 2015

Goa has incurred a loss of `35,000 crore because of illegal mining

The suspension of iron ore mining activities in Goa, effective since 2012, may be relaxed following an expert committee report submitted to the Supreme Court. The committee, set up by the apex court to evaluate the macro-level environmental impact of iron ore excavation in Goa, has suggested a cap of 20 million tonnes a year on iron ore mining, subject to an adequate mechanism to regulate and monitor the ecological and environmental impacts of mining activities. The Supreme Court had ordered a probe into mining in the state, acting on a public interest petition filed by the environmental non-profit Goa Foundation in September 2012. The petition highlighted the damage caused to the ecology and degradation of environment in the state and lack of transparency and accountability in the state government's functioning.

Claude Alvares, executive director of Goa Foundation, says it would be premature to speak about resumption of mining activities in Goa. “Though the court seems to have accepted the cap, there will certainly be terms and conditions laid out in the Supreme Court judgement, which will actually determine future mining activities and its consequences,” said Alvares. The case which was heard by the Supreme Court on Thursday  following the submission of the committee report is now reserved for judgement to be pronounced in two weeks.

Committee stresses on strong regulatory mechanism

A six-member expert committee, chaired by C R Babu, professor at the school of environmental studies in Delhi University, was set by the apex court in November last year to conduct a macro-level environmental impact assessment (EIA) study on what should be the ceiling on annual excavation of iron ore from the state considering its iron ore resources and concerns over inter-generational equity. An interim report by the committee was submitted before the apex court on March 14.

The committee submitted its suggestions following four field visits to Goa that involved collection of secondary environmental data, reviewing available literature, analysis of the data through ecological-economics modeling and understanding social perspective through interaction with various stakeholders—from government officials to community groups.

Regarding iron ore extraction capacity, the report noted that production of iron ore in Goa has leapfrogged over the past five decades. Iron ore production increased from 14.6 million tonnes per annum in 1941 to over 51 million tonnes in 2010-2011, largely driven by demands for export. Such enhanced annual production of iron in the state has contributed to serious problems of ecological degradation, environmental pollution and also public health problems. Taking such matters into account, the report mentioned that “it may not be desirable to start fresh extraction without adequate regulatory and technological measures that ensure restoration of degraded landscapes and ecosystems and minimises the future damage to the environment.”

The committee came up with a 11-point suggestion that emphasised on strong regulatory measures and application of better technology and scientific methods for mining and recognising the environmental and ecological consequences of such activity. The committee also pointed out the problem with mining activities being carried out by private miners whose narrow economic interests often undermine ecological and environmental concerns, and suggested the development of a government or public agency for the purpose. Government co-operation has been further sought for strict monitoring and regulation through the Goa Department of Mines and Geology, the Goa Pollution Control Board and the Indian Bureau of Mines. The report also stressed on sharing of profits/earning from mining activities with the community through creation of a public fund (see 'Recommendations for sustainable mining').

Recommendations for sustainable mining
The summary of recommendation by the committee in its report are as follows:
  • There is a need to regulate mining to ensure minimum damage to the ecological systems of Goa. It may not be desirable to start fresh extraction without adequate regulatory and technological measures that ensure restoration of degraded landscapes and ecosystems and minimise future damage to the environment.
  • Aquifer mapping is a must for sustainable ground water and water management in mining belt.
  • Water in mine pits should be utilised in a sustainable way in co-ordination with local bodies/water resource department. Wells should be created within the mine pits during their back filling operations to recharge and extract ground water.
  • In the mining belt and adjoining forest areas, rain water should be harvested, conserved and recharged to ground water for sustainability of aquifers and revival of springs and reservoirs. It will also offset the loss of water during mining.
  • A permanent fund should be created using earnings of iron ore mining for ensuring inter-generational equity.
  • For monitoring ecosystem health and for analysis of mining impacts, a multi-disciplinary centre should be established in Goa.
  • The feasibility of setting up of pelletisation and sintering plants should be explored for utilisation of low grade iron ore.
  • Considering the ecological and environmental damage caused by private miners to maximise profit, state may consider setting up of a mineral corporation or a public company.
  • Development of management plan for invasive species that typically affects the native vegetation of the areas around the mine leases.
  • Mining can be carried out at level of 20 million tonnes per annum with adequate mechanism in place to regulate and monitor the ecological and environmental impacts of mining activities.
  • Till the complete scientific study is done by the committee, which may take up to one year, mining activities in the state at levels directed by the Supreme Court should be closely monitored by state authorities in consultation with other statutory bodies such as Indian Bureau of Mines and Ministry of Environment and Forests.


Will suspension of mining activities finally end?

The suggestion of the expert committee and subsequent developments are likely to put an end of the suspension of mining activities that has been effective in the state since 2012. Concerns regarding illegal mining activities in Goa and its ecological impact have been long-standing. The report of Justice M B Shah Commission, which was tabled in Parliament on September 7, 2012, highlighted illegal mining activities in Goa. The commission was appointed on November 22, 2010, for inquiring into the illegal mining of iron and manganese ore in Goa and six other states. The Shah Commission in its report on Goa observed illegal mining activities were going on in the state and that encroachment was to the extent of nearly 547 hectares (ha).

Later that month, days after the Shah Commission report was submitted in Parliament, 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 in October 2012, ordered that the mine leases where violations were detected by the Shah Commission should be suspended and asked its central empowered committee (CEC) to investigate the illegalities. As a result of these suspension orders, mining activities came to a halt in Goa.

The mining industry is clearly happy with the suggestions of the apex court committee. H C Daga, president of Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI), welcome the report as a “positive development”. Though Daga considers the suggested cap of 20 million tonnes per annum to be inadequate compared to earlier production, he says it will at least open up some opportunity. “People have realized that mining is an important economic activity for various stakeholders, and we cannot afford to have a mining ban,” added Daga.

The stakeholders in Goa’s iron ore mining sector are also pleased with the development. The Goa Mining People’s Front (GMPF), a coalition of various stakeholders has been fighting for the mines to reopen. Christopher Fonseca of GMPF says that more than 30 per cent of the state’s population has been jobless following the halt in mining and related activities. Though he acknowledges the environmental concerns of mining, he says that livelihood of people are important too. “To make up for the loss of livelihood of people for more than one and a half years, the cap actually needs to be higher at about 35-40 million tonnes per annum,” asserted Christopher.

Sustainability concerns

Given the rising demand of iron ore in India and abroad, its extraction clearly raises concerns about ecological and economic sustainability. Referring to these concerns, the Shah Commission report has observed that mining can be sustainable only by lowering the permission that is capping of production of iron ore by the concerned authorities. The report had suggested that iron ore extraction in Goa should be carried out taking into consideration that iron ore reserves has to be sustained for at least 50 years to prevent the exhaustion of this valuable resource and also ensure the country’s long term self-sufficiency. A cap of 12.5 million tonnes per annum was suggested by the commission, which is much lower than what the C R Babu Committee has recommended.

Alvares remains hopeful that the judgment of the Supreme Court will take into consideration the environmental and ecological consequences of mining. “Moreover the scientific study that the committee is undertaking, which as noted will take about another year to complete, will certainly look into the impacts in a more comprehensive manner” said Alvares. “The mining proponents will have to go through a fresh process of evaluation by the ministry before they can start mining”, which he hopes will also take into considerations the impact of mining activities.

Goa (Prevention of Illegal Mining, Storage and Transportation of Minerals) (First Amendment) Rules, 2014

Order of the National Green Tribunal on mining in Goa, 11/10/2013

Survey of environmental & socio-economic impacts of interim ban on mining in Goa

Interim report by CEC on illegal mining in Goa

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