Nearly half of Goa's mines illegal: PAC

Hindustan Times | ByKetaki Ghoge and Snehal Rebello, Panaji
Sep 22, 2011 08:30 AM IST

Less than a month after the first arrest in the country's biggest mining scam in Karnataka's Bellary, the lid is about to be blown off the illegal mining that has cost Goa thousands of crores. Ketaki Ghoge and Snehal Rebello report. Money spinner

Less than a month after the first arrest in the country’s biggest mining scam in Karnataka’s Bellary, the lid is about to be blown off the illegal mining that has cost Goa — the state that exports 40% of India’s iron ore — thousands of crores, Hindustan Times has learnt.

The man who heads the state legislature-appointed public accounts committee (PAC), which is investigating the matter, told Hindustan Times that nearly half the active iron ore mines in Goa are illegal and have caused the state exchequer a loss of at least Rs 3,000 crore since 2005.

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The panel is scheduled to submit its report in the first week of October.

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PAC chairman, Manohar Parrikar, told HT: “In Goa, there have been multiple methods of illegal mining. The first kind is the blatant illegality, in which no royalty has been paid to the state. In the past six years, 15 million tonnes of iron ore worth Rs3,000 crore has been extracted in excess and exported.”

The sum is calculated on the basis of the 2005 value of iron ore, which was US$50 (Rs2,425) per tonne. Now it costs US$180 (Rs8,730) per tonne, leading activists to believe that the loss could actually be in the region of R10,000 crore. Illegal mining in Goa, as in Karnataka, took off in 2005 when China started to buy even low-grade ore (below 52% iron content), leading to a huge revival of old Portuguese mining concessions into leases, all operated by private firms. Good ore has at least 60% iron content.

In 2005, Goa exported 25.53 million tonnes of iron ore. In 2011, exports have nearly doubled to 46.84 million tonnes. "Every one, from lower officials to ministers in the government, is involved in this scam. Illegal mining in Goa is almost as massive in scale as that in Karnataka, given that Goa is a much smaller state,’’ said Parrikar.

Karnataka is 52 times larger than Goa. The losses suffered by Karnataka were Rs16,000 crore. Criminal investigative agencies, he said, will have to examine money trails to book individuals.

Sources in government who chose to not be named because they are not authorised to speak to the media said other illegalities include mining without environment and forest clearances, extracting of excess ore from dumps and diversion of forest land for mining.

Mining firms separate high-grade iron ore and reject the rest that is heaped in dumps both within and outside the mining area. Companies in Goa are sifting through these dumps to pick iron ore that didn’t make the cut earlier. China is ready to buy ore that used to be dumped earlier.

In the past 12 months alone, 48 mines have sifted through their ore dumps and extracted 1.4 million tonnes more than they had permission for. To sift through dumps and mine that ore, companies need a separate environment clearance. Sources said many of these companies do not have that. |

Anti-mining activists have challenged the companies’ figures on the ore extracted from the dumps. They allege that the mining is from fresh pits, causing more environment damage. “Neither Department of Mines or the Indian Bureau of Mines carries out independent checks. So there is no way of knowing whether this excess mining is from earlier rejects or fresh mining,’’ said Claude Alvares, director Goa Foundation, non-government organisation that has been fighting against the mining lobby. Goa Foundation had in 2010 filed a petition against 48 mining firms for excess extraction that had led to the companies being served show cause notices.

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