Pressure is growing on the Goa government to crack down on illegal mining in the state. Even as the ministry headed by Digambar Kamat braces for the report of the state assembly's public accounts committee (PAC) that is probing the matter, an inquiry commission appointed by the Union government has recommended that seven active mines be shut down for various violations.
Hindustan Times had reported on Thursday that illegal mining of iron ore had cost the state at least Rs 3000 crore, though some estimates put the figure closer to Rs 10,000 crore. The PAC chairman, Manohar Parrikar, had also told HT that at least half the active mines in Goa are illegal.
A team from the Centre's inquiry commission headed by retired Supreme Court judge MB Shah is currently stationed in Goa. Over the last week, it has already asked the government to act against seven mines for violations such as extracting ore from areas beyond their boundaries and for subletting operations.
One of these mines is in the name of the late Haider Kassim Khan in Quepem but is operated by Congress politician Dinar Tarcar.
"The commission had visited the mine and found that there was a dispute over power of attorney. The commission has said the mine should be shut," said Arvind Loliyekar, director of Goa's mines and geology department.
Laxmikant Kamat, spokesperson for the Tarcar-controlled Minescape Group of Companies, said: "We are the duly appointed contractors under a written contract for this mine. The contract is presently sub judice. It will not be possible to express any further opinion on the subject."
Kamat said they had not received any suspension notice from the Shah commission or any other authority.
Official documents accessed by HT also show that a majority of the mining companies are under the scanner of the PAC and the Shah commission.
These include Goa's big four that control most of the business - Sesa Goa Ltd (Vedanta Group); M/s Soc Timblo Irmaos Ltd; VM Salgaocar; VD Chowgule - and midsize companies such as Talaulicar and Sons; NS Narvekar; Damodar Mangalji; and Kunda Gharse.
Government records show that in the last one year, 39 of the 91 active mines had, without permission, extracted ore from dumps that held ore rejected earlier as low grade;12 had carried on operations without clearances under the wildlife protection act; and nine had erred on both counts.
Some of these, including VM Salgaocar's mine at Bicholim taluka, had mined a total of 1.9 million tonnes by sifting through the ore dumps during 2009-11. Demand for low-grade ore was spurred by demand from China, which accepted ore with ferrous content as low as 52%.
Ashwyn Kumar Nayak, deputy general manager (legal) for Salgaocar mines, said, "It is not correct to say that we have extracted in excess of the permissible limits. We have written to the appropriate authority and have informed them of the correct position with a request to correct the anomaly.''
The late Zairam Neogi's mining firm, which is also run by Congress politician Tarcar, stands accused of mining 0.7 million tonnes in excess from its mine in Sanguem taluka during 2009-11.
Spokesperson Kamat said: "The production is within environment clearance limits. We have already filed our response to the authorities concerned denying any excess production."
Mines that don't have clearance under the wildlife protection act include VD Chowgule's mine located just 1 km from the Netravali sanctuary; Sesa Goa's mine at Sattari; and M/s Soc Timblo Irmaos' mine in Bicholim.
VD Chowgule's firm did not respond to queries emailed three days ago.
Sanjay Choudhry of Sesa Goa said the company had applied to the National Wildlife Board for raising ore extraction limits for its Sattari mine. "The leases are being operated within old limits," said Choudhry. The board's permission is required for operating mines within the 10-km buffer zone of wildlife sanctuaries.
Partha Banerjee, senior General manager of Fomento Resources that controls Timblos, said: " At present further extraction in the [Bicholim] mine is not being taken up until the consent to operate under the Water Act 1974 is received from the Goa State Pollution Control Board."
However, Banerjee did not clarify on the status of the clearance under the wildlife protection act for the mine.