The Goa government, facing mounting criticism over the mining scam, is likely to revoke clearances given to 19 iron ore mines operating within the 10-km protected zones around wildlife sanctuaries.
This follows a directive from the Union environment ministry two days ago asking the state to act against mines operating within the 10-km buffer zones without the approval of the National Board of Wildlife. A 2006 Supreme Court ruling says all mines need approval from the board to operate within these eco-sensitive zones.
Goa chief minister Digambar Kamat, who has held the mines portfolio for 12 years, has so far not taken any action against mines operating in the protected areas.
In fact, the Goa government has, in the last four years, granted clearances to mines in the buffer zones without the board's nod and defended its decision saying the state advocate general's legal opinion was that clearance from state forest officials was sufficient.
HT has, in a series of reports, revealed how nearly half the mines in Goa's forests do not have wildlife clearances and how illegal mining has cost the state Rs 3,000 crore, with some estimates putting this figure at Rs10,000 crore.
The principal chief conservator of forests, Shashi Kumar, confirmed that action would be taken. "We are likely to revoke the clearances soon as we have got written communication from the Centre asking us to close down one such mine. The same grounds apply to other, similar mines," he said.
The one mine that was shut in August this year belonged to Rajaram Bandekar and is situated 3 km from the Netralvali wildlife sanctuary.
The chief conservator of forests in charge of Goa, K S Reddy, said: "Yes, we have told the [state] government to take action in cases where mines have no clearance from the Wildlife Board. A report on the factual position in Goa will be sent to the ministry in the next three days."
Kumar said the decision was due on Friday but "the debate remained inconclusive."
Claude Alvares of the NGO Goa Foundation said the state was dragging its feet because the stakes were high. "Closing down even one mine would mean a loss of crores of rupees," he said. The Foundation has filed a petition on this issue before the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court.
The Goa government had earlier told the Centre that there was no need for an eco-sensitive zone around sanctuaries, but the argument was rejected.