Goa ecologists, miners oppose Centre’s proposed amendments to mining act
- Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association (GMOEA), a body of mine owners, said they have written to the Centre expressing reservations over the proposed amendments.
The Goa mine workers and environmentalists have come together to oppose the proposed amendments to the Mines and Minerals Development (MMDR) Act, 1957, which gives the Centre powers to auction mines in states, terming it a step backwards.
In a series of communiques sent to the Union ministry of mines, the Goa Foundation has said the proposed amendments will “essentially enable the Center to force states to sell their family silver at a below-market price that the Center sets.”
The Central ministry sent out a notice asking stakeholders and the general public to comment on the proposed amendments, which, among other things, included provisions to transfer the statutory clearances of expired mining leases and allows the Centre to auction mines in case of difficulties faced by the states, a provision crucial to Goa since it has not been able to auction its mines despite passing of more than two years since the Supreme Court order to grant fresh mining leases.
Referring to mineral resources as a shared inheritance, owned by state governments as a trustee for the people, akin to the family silver, the Goa Foundation has said that ‘forcibly’ auctioning the mines at less than market value would amount to ‘cheating’.
“How would states then fulfil their duties as public trustees to conserve the shared inherited mineral wealth if they have no control over if, when or how they sell their family silver? How would states meet intergenerational equity? These proposals violate the principle of subsidiarity and the federal structure of our Constitution,” Goa Foundation director Claude Alvares, said.
We urge state governments to urgently examine the consequences of these proposals on the federal structure of our Union, the constitutionality of these proposals, especially in light of their role as public trustees over the shared inheritance of mineral wealth on behalf of the people and future generations, he added further.
The Goa Mining People’s Front, a collective of mine worker unions, has however said that owing to Goa’s peculiar case unless the state’s legacy issues are resolved all attempts to resolve Goa’s mining impasse were bound to fail.
“A petition challenging the Union Government’s move to convert Goa’s mining concessions as granted by the Portuguese to mining leases is pending before the Supreme Court for the last two decades. Unless that matter is disposed of no progress can be made,” Puti Gaonkar the president of the GMPF, said.
“If the matter is resolved one way or another then the state or Central governments are free to proceed with the grant of fresh leases either through auction or any other means available,” Gaonkar said. “If any decision is taken prematurely, the existing mine owners will further seek to stay the process that could leave Goa’s mining in litigation for another ten years and further delay the restart,” he added.
Officials in the Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association (GMOEA), a body of mine owners, said they have written to the Centre expressing reservations over the proposed amendments, especially the clause that empowers the Union government to auction mining leases since it will be prejudicial to their claims over the mining leases. A GMOEA spokesperson, however, remained tight-lipped on the communique.
Besides the challenge to the abolition of concessions to leases, a bunch of Goa’s mine operators led by Vedanta are also before the Supreme Court claiming that their leases are eligible to be renewed up to 2037 -- a period of 50 years with effect from 1987 -- if the law as it currently stands is applied retrospectively. The matter is currently being heard by the Supreme Court.
The Goa mining industry at its peak contributed 16% to the State GDP but has now reduced to a mere 0.2% owing to its shutdown in the state since the Supreme Court cancelled Goa’s 88 active mining leases in February 2018. The SC ruled that the renewals were illegal and asked the state government to grant fresh leases in tune with the existing policy.
However, with the state government being reluctant to auction the leases, which is now the de facto means to grant fresh leases since the 2015 amendments to the MMDR Act, the situation has remained deadlocked.