Goa plans to revive Portuguese era legislation in bid to resume mining
The Goa government now plans to ask parliament to amend the Goa Daman and Diu (Abolition of Concession and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act restoring the concessions.
Goa government is planning to revive a provisions of the Portuguese era mining legislation which granted concessions for an indefinite period in a bid to restore mining in the state stalled by the Supreme Court. A resolution to be effect is likely to be passed in the Goa assembly on Friday.
Goa’s mining leases were granted as concessions in perpetuity by the colonial Portuguese government beginning in the 1930s. Twenty six years after Goa became part of India, the Central government through the Goa Daman and Diu (Abolition of Concession and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act, 1987, converted all mining concessions with effect from 1961, when Goa became part of India, into mining leases which expired in 2007.
The Goa government now plans to ask parliament to amend the Goa Daman and Diu (Abolition of Concession and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act restoring the concessions. Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar wants the Centre to amend section 2 of the Act, which enforced the law retrospectively, so that the shift from the Portuguese legal regime to the Indian system be delayed ex post facto.
“The amendment would be the only lasting solution to the mining issue,” Parrikar said on Wednesday, to build political consensus on the issue. Most of the political parties have supported Parrikar on the issue in the assembly. The Goa Assembly on Friday will discuss a resolution requesting the Centre to amend the Goa Daman and Diu (Abolition of Concession and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act.
The Goa Mining People’s Front has been seeking the amendment saying that it was the “quickest” way to resume mining. “Under the colonial mining laws, titles of concessions were granted in perpetuity and were recognised as a patrimonial right… The abolition Act in 1987 led to problems for the mining industry in Goa,” president of the forum Puti Gaonkar said.
Under the present MMDR Act as amended in 2015, mining leases have to be granted through a process of auction. However, Parrikar had said that auctioning the leases was not a viable option as the Goa’s low grade ore, fetches a low price in the international market and leaves very little margin for the miners after extraction and transportation costs are accounted for.
The Mining Engineers Association of India (MEAI) also said that auction is not a viable option and amending the law was the only practical solution. T Victor, former president of the MEAI T Victor recently said that amending the 1987 Act Goa would help ensure quick resumption of mining activity in Goa. “If that is done, tomorrow mining can be started,” he said. The SC had also struck down the environmental clearances after the Central government appointed MB Shah committee had claimed that the leases in Goa violated green norms.
Claude Alvares, director of Goa Foundation on whose petition mining leases were cancelled by the Supreme Court, said that the government’s plans seem speculative. “Right now they are only talking about it. Once they do it, then we will know what exactly they are doing and accordingly we can challenge it (in the court),” Alvares said, adding that proposals being made for revival of mining will not survive judicial scrutiny or review.
Legal expert advocate Cleofato Almeida Coutinho said it was within the powers of Parliament to amend the Act but the questi-ons remained was whether it was the right thing to do. “Under the present Mines and Minerals Development Act (MMDR) they are supposed grant mining leases through auction,” he said and added that by bringing the amendment, the government was going against its own principle of making maximum money through auction. “It is through backdoor granting of leases to the same people whose time is over,” he said.
Mining in Goa is open cast involves excavating large gaping holes in the earth completely hollowing out hills resulting in a large amount of ‘rejects’ mountains of which dot Goa’s mining hinterland even though the second is among the biggest contributor to the state Gross Domestic Product (GDP), higher than the tourism sector, which accounts for about seven percent, according to Goa’s government data book on economy.
On the other hand, the MB Shah committee said that illegal mining in Goa had caused “irreversible and irreparable damage” to the biodiversity, wildlife, environment and ecosystem, especially in the eco-sensitive zone of the Western Ghats in Goa. Mining has also caused water scarcity in the affected areas as the ore is often located below the water table and can be reached only through pumping the water out, according to information placed before the HC by local activists.
While banning mining in Goa in this February, a Supreme Court bench of justices Madan Lokur and Deepak Gupta had observed: “Rapacious and rampant exploitation of our natural resources is the hallmark of our iron ore mining sector - coupled with a total lack of concern for the environment and the health and well being of the denizens in the vicinity of the mines. The sole motive of mining lease holders seems to be to make profits (no matter how) and the attitude seems to be that if the rule of law is required to be put on the backburner, so be it.”