The Goa environment ministry ordered the closure of 12 mines last week for their proximity to wildlife sanctuaries, but the government's new draft mineral policy allows mining in close vicinity of the protected areas.
The draft mining policy, which was tabled during the budget session of the Goa legislative assembly, clearly advocates mining near the state's wildlife sanctuaries, which are a part of the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats.
"Mining leases/prospecting licences within close proximity from already declared wildlife sanctuaries would be considered provided they adhere to additional safeguards and guidelines whilst operating so as to reduce any adverse effect on the environment," the draft mining policy states.
On Aug 6, Environment Minister Aleixo Sequeira had ordered the closure of 12 mines, including one leased to mining giant Sesa Goa for their alleged proximity to wildlife sanctuaries.
The draft policy, however, does not permit mining within wildlife sanctuaries and national parks "for the time being".
"The state government is also of the view that while it is necessary to earmark mining areas, presently no prospecting leases should be allotted in wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. Similarly, no prospecting leases on wetlands should be allowed for the time being," the document states.
The draft policy also aims to evolve a mechanism to end dormant non-operational mining leases issued by the Portuguese government, which ruled Goa before the state was liberated in 1961.
"A number of mining concessions are being kept idle for speculative purposes and future mining... The state government is also concerned with issues of conservation of minerals as well as sustainable development and as such would discourage opening existing dormant leases uniformly," the draft policy states, adding that no such dormant leases would be permitted to work without an environmental clearance and forest clearance, wherever required.
While the state government's draft mining policy clearly advocates mining in close proximity of wildlife sanctuaries, it also speaks of maintaining the ecological balance in the state.
The draft mining policy is the brainchild of Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, who is also the minister for mining.
"It would be the endeavour of the state government to ensure that mining activities do not create an adverse impact to the environment and ecology," the policy states.
There are more than a 100 mining leases in Goa's hinterland, which export nearly 30 million tonnes of iron ore annually.