While Goa chief minister Digambar Kamat, who has held the mines portfolio for 12 years, is facing mounting criticism after a series of reports by HT on how illegal mining has cost the state Rs 3,000 crore, his colleagues, it has emerged, are directly involved with mining activities.
Goa’s urban development minister Joaquim Alemao is a mining contractor. He runs a firm called Raisa Mining which supplies excavation machinery to at least three mines — at Rivona in south Goa and Keli and Advalpal in north Goa. Recently, the Commission of Inquiry headed by retired judge MB Shah directed the state to suspend the licence of the Keli mine for extracting ore in excess of what was permitted.
The state Congress unit president, Subhash Shirodkar, who has a transport business, owns more than 15 trucks that ferry ore from the mines to jetties. Until last year, he was also a mining contractor.
Local politician Dinar Tarcar, known to be close to the CM, has power of attorney of at least four families — Zairam Neogui, Hyder Kassim Khan, V G Mehta and Vasudev Sarmalkar — who owned mining leases handed out during Portuguese rule.
Recently, one of at least five mines he runs was ordered shut by the Shah Commission over a dispute over power of attorney, and official records show he has extracted excess ore.
The NCP co-ordinator in Goa, Dr Prafulla Hede, runs a 60-year-old family mining lease and has been accused of operating a mine within one km of the Bhagwan Mahavir bird sanctuary without mandatory clearances. Alemao admitted he was a part of the mining trade but insisted he was not involved in any illegal activity. “The party high command has asked us not to talk to the media,” he said.
Shirodkar, too, said his business was legal: “I am not denying I run a transport company along with my brother. We own trucks that ferry various things like metal and iron ore.”
He said he had indeed been the contractor for a mine owned by a company in Sanguem till last year. “For one year, that lease has been challenged in court,” he said. Laxmikant Kamat, spokesperson for the Minescape Group run by Tarcar said: “We have not received suspension notice from the Shah Commission or any other authority for [the] mine in the name of Haider Kassim Khan and operated by us. We are the duly appointed contractors under a written contract for the mine but this contract is presently sub-judice before the civil court.”
He also through a mail pointed out that mines operated by Minescape had not extracted ore in excess of what was allowed and stated that this had been wrongly interpreted in official records.
The NCP’s Hede told HT: “I have not extracted excess ore, and the portion of the mine near the sanctuary has been closed. The government was quick to indict me, now it should bring all its ministers and senior leaders under a separate commission.” Kamat had told this paper last week that he could do nothing if the activities of the politicians were legal. “If their businesses are legal, there is no reason to take action. The government has taken action against blatant illegalities.”
He mentioned the case of NCP national general secretary Jitendra Deshprabhu, who was asked to pay a penalty of Rs 1.72 crore this year for mining illegally. Civil society activists said the activities of politicians needed to be looked into. “Some politicians are involved actively, while others are working behind the scenes. Kamat may not own a mine but all files related to mining stop at his table,” said Floriano Lobo of the Goa Environmental Action Group.
Anti-mining activist Ramesh Gauns said: “The line between legal and illegal mining is blurred in Goa. It’s not possible that transport companies don’t know the quantity of ore being ferried to the jetty. And contractors excavating ore for mine owners also can’t claim innocence.”