Former telecom minister A Raja, who is now in Tihar jail in the 2G spectrum case, had given environmental clearances for 169 mines in Goa during his five-year stint as union environment minister.
Documents accessed by HT reveal that these clearances were given to private companies between May 2004 and May 2009 by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to extract about 60 million tonne of iron ore annually.
Many of the environment impact assessment (EIA) studies on the basis of which the MoEF gave these clearances have proved to be inaccurate, not reflecting the actual position on the ground, HT has learnt.
For instance, EIA reports submitted by a mining firm at Sancordem did not even mention river Ragado, which flows for 7 km through the village. Similarly, clearances were granted despite mining companies not submitting information on biodiversity or the accurate distance of their mines from water bodies and wildlife sanctuaries.
“Raja's tenure as environment minister was the beginning of the phase of growth of mineral exploitation and of new projects. But it’s also the biggest shame on India's environment history because of bad processes and corruption,” said Sunita Narain, director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, who has studied illegal mining in Goa.
On Thursday, the CSE released a report on environmental clearances given for various projects between 2007 and 2011. The report said 35 clearances were given to mining projects in Goa during this period.
After Jairam Ramesh took over the environment ministry from Raja in June 2009, a moratorium was imposed on new mining projects in February 2010.
The Goa assembly’s public accounts committee (PAC), which is probing the illegal mining scam in the state, is also reported to be looking into possible environmental violations. PAC chairman Manohar Parrikar told HT that 25% of the iron ore extracted in the state had been mined without environmental clearances.
On Thursday, HT had reported how illegal mining has cost the state at least Rs. 3,000 crore, though the figure could be as high as Rs. 10,000 crore.
Claude Alvares, who heads non-governmental organisation Goa Foundation that is spearheading the anti-mining campaign, said, “Raja’s tenure coincided with the Chinese boom in 2005 (when that country started buying even low-grade ore with iron content as low as 52%). Under Raja, an environmental clearance became the easiest document to get.”
At least three mines given clearances during Raja’s tenure were allowed to operate within just 200 metres of the Salaulim reservoir that provides water to nearly half of Goa’s population.
Also, in one year alone, between 2007 and 2008, the union ministry granted clearances to 17 mines within the Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary in Sanguem taluka. This was done even though a Supreme Court order of 2000 said that no mine would be allowed to operate inside wildlife sanctuaries. None of the 17 mines is operational now as the matter is before the Supreme Court.