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Goa Hopes To Revive Mines – But Affected Communities Fear Return of Old Normal

A February 2018 order of the Supreme Court had effectively halted all mining operations in the state.

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The Goa government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), recently passed the Goa Mineral Development Corporation (GMDC) Bill 2021 during the legislative assembly’s monsoon session. The Bill that enables the creation of a state-owned mineral corporation to revive mining operations in the state was passed without any discussion amid a walkout by the opposition party.

The Bill was introduced and passed following the July 2021 order of the Supreme Court of India dismissing review petitions filed by the Goa government and Vedanta Limited against the apex court’s February 2018 order ruling against the Goa government’s decision to renew 88 mining leases.

The February 2018 order of the apex court halted all mining operations in the state. The government now hopes that the decision to form the mineral corporation will help them during the state legislative assembly elections scheduled for early 2022.

In the July 2021 order, the Supreme Court observed that there were no legitimate grounds for review and dismissed the petitions on grounds of limitation. According to the law, the review petitions need to be filed within 30 days of the judgement. The apex court criticised the petitioners for a delay of more than 650 days suggesting that they waited for the judges who authored the 2018 order to retire. “Such practice must be firmly disapproved to preserve the institutional sanctity of the decision making of this Court,” the court said in its order.

Goa has been trying to find ways to move forward after the Central government’s 2015 amendment to the Mines and Mineral Development and Regulation (MMDR) Act 1957 made it difficult for them to allocate mining rights without auctioning them even though it provides for reservation of mining rights in favour of a government-owned company.

According to the latest GMDC Bill, the mineral Corporation that will be formed, after obtaining mining leases and prospecting licenses shall carry out all mining operations, including all business related to mining dumps, transportation, extraction of ore, export of ore and mining rejects, slurries, tailings, etc. It said that the Corporation shall also participate in the auction related to mining lease/prospecting licence as and when government auctions such mining leases/ prospecting licenses.

The Corporation will be headed by the state’s chief minister as its ex-officio chairman and will have the secretaries of mines, environment and finance, and a geologist as its members. The Bill was passed by the Goa Assembly ten days after chief minister Pramod Sawant returned from New Delhi where he met the Union Mines Minister Prahlad Joshi and signed an MoU with the ministry’s Mineral Exploration Corporation Ltd. for exploration of Goa’s mineral reserves – a prerequisite for auction.

If the state chooses to reserve the mining leases in favour of its newly created corporation, it will need the central government’s approval for the same. However, with no mining equipment and infrastructure of its own, the Corporation is likely to tender contracts for mine developers and operators (MDO) to run these leases. If the central government turns down its request to the state, the leases will be up for auction in which the corporation may also choose to participate.

No representation for communities affected or dependent on mining

The formation of a Corporation for restarting mining in the state, an important component of the economy of the coastal state in Western India, is being criticised for not giving space to the communities affected or dependent on mining.

Ravindra Velip, an activist from Cawrem, one of the villages severely impacted by mining, said: “First of all, there was no discussion of the Bill on the floor. It was passed without any comments or chance of amendments. Secondly, if you see the constitution of the Bill, it has the chief minister as the chairman and all the government bureaucrats as its members. Why is there not a single representation from any of the communities who have been affected by mining?”

“Before the state government decides to resume mining, it is required to do an assessment of the damage caused by mining, which has not been done. The government has completely failed to consider the views of the people who are dependent on mining and those who have been affected by mining,” Velip told Mongabay-India.

The sentiments were echoed by Sakaram Pedneker, a farmer and activist based in Maem, another village affected by mining. “If they start with the corporation, they need to collect the data of the ruins of the past. The corporation should have rules and laws that will ensure the destruction is as little as possible. It can’t be 100 percent no-destruction, but it needs to be as little as possible. There has been no restoration in our village. The old miners have gone. The corporation will come. Everything will be the same. How does this benefit us?” questioned Pedneker.

In May 2020, Pednekar and others had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court, demanding a restoration of their paddy fields destroyed by mining.

The court ruled in their favour but Pednekar said that an officer of the state’s water resource department told him that “they don’t have funds” to do any restoration work.

“Isn’t the government supposed to have a special fund for the mining-affected villages?” he asked. Earlier this year, Mongabay-India had reported that the majority of the funds from Goa’s District Mineral Fund (DMF) Foundation, meant to be used for the welfare of the mining-affected communities, were diverted for COVID-19.

Abhijeet Prabhudesai of the non-profit Rainbow Warriors also opposed the formation of the mineral corporation.

“A true corporation should have been formed of village communities. This is business as usual, with a clear clause that they can sublease the contracts to whoever they want. The old miners will be back in no time with the corporation.” Prabhudesai told Mongabay-India.

He said the real victims are the local people – either having their land destroyed or being made to take loans for trucks. “All of their loans should be waived off, and there should be a 20-year moratorium on mining. Restore the land to its original state. If and when it restarts, it needs to have all-inclusive, equitable village communities who are made equal decision-makers. That’s the only way we can have socio-economic justice,” he demanded.

Will the state mineral corporation address critical issues?

India’s experience with mining corporations, both as central and state entities has not always been encouraging.

For instance, the Steel Authority of India or the profitable state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation has, for years, squatted on large areas but, according to experts, it has not necessarily stopped it from being among the biggest violators of environmental laws as evidenced by the penalties it paid after an apex court directive.

Goa Foundation, an environmental group whose petition had led to the February 2018 order of the Supreme Court, congratulated the government for the formation of the Corporation, and for taking the leases from private players and putting them into the public sector. It asked the government to hire professional people and not politicians to run it, pass an order reserving all mining in the state to the Corporation, recruit former employees of the mining industry and not allow any fresh extraction till the restoration of mining areas is completed.

Rana Sengupta of the Mine Labour Protection Campaign, a non-profit based in Rajasthan, where the state-owned Rajasthan Mine Mineral Limited operates, said that things are a mess on the ground.

“The state raises tenders and gives contracts to private players. They have created a nuisance. There is no law and order. They have destroyed the environment and the livestock of the people. They have forced people to take loans to buy trucks, making them dependent on mining. And they promise them jobs and then offer them to go to a different city, and when they refuse, they render them jobless,” Sengupta explained to Mongabay-India.

Meera Mohanty, an independent journalist who has extensively covered the mining sector, said “The (central government) mines ministry has been inconsistent in its position on government-owned corporations, state or Centre, that are often abused for political patronage and more recently have been used to transition to the new auction regime.”

“While the Centre amended the mining law to allow government corporations to mine areas whose auctions were unsuccessful, it refused to entertain Jharkhand’s request for reservation of iron ore leases for the state mineral corporation,” Mohanty said.

For truck owners like Sandeep Parab of Pissurlem, a village where water supply was severely impacted because of mining, it doesn’t matter how mining happens as long as it resumes.

“We are desperate for work. We need work. We have been suffering since 2012 (when the mining was first stopped in the state due to a case in the Supreme Court). We don’t care about their motives. Let the work begin,” he said.

This article was first published by Mongabay-India and has been republished here under a Creative Commons license.