Mining in the rich iron ore belts in Goa is unlikely to resume any time soon even after the Supreme Court’s (SC) lifting the 18-month-old ban on Monday.
“Mines cannot start functioning any time soon since all operational mines (between 93 and 104) have no valid leases,” said Claude Alvares, petitioner, Goa Foundation. “The apex court has allowed miners to extract 20mt annually but the practical value of the cap is zero.”
The apex court upheld the state government’s order in September 2012 on the closure of all mines as well as the suspension of environment clearances issued by the union environment ministry in the same month.
“Mining operations cannot start over night. We will refer SC’s judgment to the law department and advocate general for legal examination to advise us on what has to be done,” said Prasanna Acharya, director, mines and geology.
The SC, in October 2012, had banned mining operations in Goa on the basis of Justice MB Shah commission of inquiry report that claimed illegal mining has caused a loss of Rs. 35,000 crore to the exchequer in the last 12 years.
No quick start to mining operations stems from the SC order declaring all mining leases after November 2007 illegal since they fall under the second renewal period and therefore cannot be deemed automatically valid.
“The state government will have to review the mining leases for the second renewal period. Even a new application for a mining lease will have to go through several mandatory bureaucratic procedures that include approval from the mines ministry, public hearing, environment clearance and nod from the national wildlife board,” said Alvares. “All are in trouble.”
The state can also take action against a miner operating on someone else’s lease, which could result in cancellation of the lease.
According to the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), one-third of the 14.24-lakh Goan population was affected by the closure of mining operations.
The thriving mining business post 2004 — China started accepting low grade iron ore—saw Goans borrowing loans from banks to the tune of Rs. 1,800 crore to buy trucks, barges, excavators and earth moving machines, and with it grew a service industry in the form of garages and spare part dealers.