With tourism down, clamour to restart mining in Goa gets louder
A mining body is proposing resumption of mining as the solution to Goa’s economic woes during the lockdown.Updated: Apr 23, 2020 22:52 IST
With Covid-19 bringing the country to a halt and the tourism sector to its knees, a clamour has started for the resumption of mining -- the other industry that is considered the backbone of the Goan economy.
The Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association (GMOEA) has pitched itself as the potential saviour of Goa’s ‘debt-ridden-economy’ and promised that the government coffers will be full if mining restarts.
In a letter to the state government, Ambar Timblo, the president of the GMOEA, has said that in the time of lockdown, the mining industry was a safe bet for the revival of Goa’s economy.
“At present, it is not possible to restart the tourism industry unless the contagion is overcome globally. However, in so far as mining is concerned, the same can be undertaken even during the present period of lockdown with certain safety procedures and practices. Goa is uniquely positioned for the immediate resumption of operations as all workforce, infrastructure, and relevant statutory clearances are in place,” Timblo said.
Mining in Goa came to a halt in March 2018 after the Supreme Court ruled that the Goa government’s decision to renew mining leases in 2015 was ‘unduly hasty’ and was contrary to its earlier directions for the grant of fresh leases instead of renewals.
However, rather than granting fresh leases -- a process that now involves an auction after the Government of India amended the MMDR Act in 2015 -- the Goa government has been hoping to get the Supreme Court to change its mind.
Parallelly, Vedanta Ltd which acquired Sesa Goa, the largest mining company operating in Goa, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court arguing that its request for a 50-year extension of its lease with effect from the year 1987 should be allowed.
The Goa government had disallowed Vedanta’s request claiming that its hands were tied as the Supreme Court clearly mandated that all mining operations in the State of Goa be stopped until fresh mining leases or other renewals and fresh environmental clearances are granted.
Vedanta’s plea before the High Court against the State Government’s decision was also rejected and is now pending before the Supreme Court.
Apart from the revenue loss due to the suspension of mining operations, the Goa government has seen its debt mount over the last one year owing to slashing of the GST rates for the hospitality sector including on hotels and restaurants.
In a bid to shore up revenues, the Goa Government hiked excise duty on liquor as well as VAT on fuel but has still seen debt balloon to Rs 20,000 crore.
Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has expressed his inability to run to the aid of business sectors that were facing losses on account of the shutdown.
“Right now we are not in a position to declare any kind of package for everyone. The state itself is going through a bad position; we should all understand that the government itself is going through an economic crisis. At this stage, it is wrong to expect a relief package from the state government,” Sawant said.
“This sharp increase in debt levels can be attributed to shutdown of mining activities which has led to revenue loss of Rs 7000 crores in the last 2 years. The state tourism sector, which is already reeling under huge losses, is expected to witness a major fall in the number of tourists coming to the state over the next 3 quarters. The contraction in tourism will lead to additional losses for the State as well as an increase in unemployment to the tune of almost 75,000 jobs,” said Timblo, who has now been appointed on the Goa government’s economic revival committee.
Despite the clamour to revive mining, voices against the resumption of mining persist. The transportation of ore mined before March 2018 has been allowed by the Supreme Court for six months, leading to vocal protests by those affected by it.
“We are observing about 200 laden trucks plying per hour on the village roads. This makes the mockery of lockdown. We all are aware that COVID-19 positive cases in our neighbouring states are increasing day by day, especially in Belgaum district of Karnataka State. We were expecting the authorities to be very cautious about the movement of people,” Rupesh Velip from Caurem village in South Goa which has seen the movement of ore, said.
Goa Foundation’s executive director Claude Alvares, too, questioned the move during the lockdown.
“Lakhs of Goans have been told to stay at home by the Prime Minister of India and to wear masks. However, heavy and uncontrolled movement of mining trucks on open roads through human settlements makes nonsense of these directions. This is sheer hypocrisy,” he said.