Mining operations in the state have been stopped indefinitely on the orders of the Supreme Court which annulled renewal of mining leases by the state government. For the second time in five and half years mining has been shut down in the state. The closure of mines has cast a gloom on those depending on them. The mining industry has for decades been a key revenue earner for the state government, besides providing livelihood to thousands of people. Though political parties in the state, particularly those in the ruling coalition, promised to get relief from the central authorities they failed to keep their word. It is apparent that the approach of the state government to get relief for the mining industry and dependants from the Centre was half-hearted and belated. Finally when no solution came, the state government decided to enforce closure of mines by evening of March 15. With the mines closed, thousands of truck owners and workers and barge owners and workers have no work to do. Stoppage of mining affects the businesses in the mining areas that cater to the industry, such as petrol pumps and eateries.
The state government wasted a lot of time dilly dallying after the apex court order. It appeared that the state government had no plans to help the industry or the mining dependants. The state authorities had high hopes from the central government in tiding over the situation; however, hopes receded with the central ministers telling the state delegation that they had to abide by the apex court order and go in for auction of mines. Having first expressed reservations over filing a review petition before the Supreme Court, the state government has now decided to consider approach the apex court. The government has pinned its hope on the advice of Attorney General of India K K Venugopal on how to file the review petition. It is surprising that the state authorities still want to file the review petition, despite advocate general Dattaprasad Lawande advising against it. With the central government having ruled out the possibility of granting extension to leases following the court verdict, it remains to be seen how far the state government can take the matter to get relief from the Supreme Court or a reversal of the verdict.
The state could have avoided the agony caused to the people had it chosen to take the auction route for grant of mining leases, rather than granting their renewal. The short-cut has helped neither the mining companies nor the mining dependants. After the apex court order came, the state government’s reaction to the media was that they had followed the directive of the High Court in granting the mining lease renewals. If the state government was so confident of the legal position of their action, they should have gone to the apex court with an appeal. However, what ministers of the state were trying to do is say something for public consumption. They were not really on very solid grounds as far as the rules, principles and practices they followed in granting renewal of mining leases were concerned. The state authorities failed to act in time and were shedding crocodile tears to show the mining dependants that they could feel their pain and were trying to help them out, when nothing tangible was being done by them.
Even the decision of the cabinet advisory committee to examine the option of seeking a review of the court verdict seems to be nothing but a move to make the mining industry and mining dependants believe that the government is serious about doing something to help them. As it is already too late and the mines are already closed, the state government should begin setting up the systems for auctioning of mine leases. The sooner the systems are set, the shorter will be the time of shutdown of mining operations. The state government should have used the months that followed the apex court verdict to make preparations for the auction, as even though the court had not specifically asked for it, it had suggested a fair way of granting leases, which implied auction. However, better late than never. The state government should draw up the procedures for auction in the shortest possible time. It remains to be seen how it can protect the interests of Goan entrepreneurs in mining and transport and waterways navigation. The government should also lose no time in drawing up plans and make financial allocations for them in order to meet the problem of unemployment caused by the mining shutdown.