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SC order on Goa mining must lead to a people-oriented mineral policy

The country’s natural resources are public property; the State cannot allow them to be illegally frittered away for the profit of a few.

opinion Updated: Feb 09, 2018 12:07 IST
Hindustan Times
supreme court,mining,illegal mining
The Supreme Court on February 7, 2018, quashed 88 mining leases granted by the Goa government for violating procedure and ordered that fresh licences be granted through a bidding process.(HT)

If there is one book that skillfully captures what the Supreme Court described as “rapacious mining” in Goa, it is Hartman de Souza’s Eat Dust: Mining and Greed in Goa. In this part-memoir, part investigative documentation on what unbridled mining has done to the state, the author writes: “During the three months when the monsoon breaks and mining is forced to halt…. one needs to witness the destruction that humankind is capable of. For close to ninety kilometres of potholed road, you find yourself surrounded by hills shorn of trees and earth”.

On Wednesday, a Supreme Court order revealed why this is appalling situation in Goa. The government violated the law to renew mining permits, when the right action would have been to put them up for auction. The apex court scrapped 88 mining licences and ordered that fresh licences be granted through a bidding process. It also directed setting up of a special investigation team, which will include a chartered accountant to recover money the companies made after the mining permits were renewed.

The State should use this SC order to come up with a comprehensive policy on mining, an economic activity that cannot be wished away, and also a draw a roadmap to reduce looting of the country’s mineral resources. (This SC order also comes at a critical as well as an opportune moment because today is the last day for people to send suggestions for them to be incorporated into the draft national mineral policy.)

While illegal mining is a matter of critical concern, there are some issues that the State needs to address in the new policy: First, the issue of district mineral foundations. These foundations were set up in districts and funded by statutory contributions from holders of mining lease for the welfare of people affected by mining. But most of them are non-functional and people have no clue about these funds. Secondly, the occupational health issues of people who work in mines (silicosis is a big problem). Thirdly, there is a crying need to set up a nodal body to take care of children who live in and around the mines and look into the impact such activities have on their lives. Finally, combating the challenge of how to make mining sustainable so that the country is able to reap the rewards of the resources for a longer time (what the Supreme Court had earlier termed as “optimum utilization of natural resources”). The country’s natural resources are public property; the State cannot allow them to be illegally frittered away for the profit of a few.

First Published: Feb 09, 2018 12:07 IST