Sunday , 24 March 2019

Goa Loses New-Age Mining Opportunities


I am reasonably sure that of the many things that Goa is in dire need of, is the need for management of change. In my view, we seem to be lagging far, far behind. It’s simple, it’s so very clear – we can neither install meters nor speed-governors in our taxis, we cannot deploy app-based cabs for our tourists, we cannot ensure day-long power and water for citizens and these are keys to our lifestyles.

Let’s now turn to mining.  Just to recapitulate (without going into technical mumbo-jumbo and distant history that I explained already discussed in these columns 8 months back) – in April 2014, the Supreme Court ordered – all mining lease renewals after 2007 (when they had last expired) were illegal and fresh leases be made on transparent mechanism like auctioning. Thereafter in January 2015 – the Amended Mining and Minerals (Development and Regulations) (MMDR) Laws came. The new law required that the allotment of mining blocks be done on transparent and optimal routes viz, by public auctions in case of iron-ore, instead of some discretionary historical basis.

Whilst every other state seized the opportunity and started preparing for auctions, the Goa Government went in for a “Mining Policy” maintaining a stoic silence on the mode of allocation of mining leases and they “renewed” 28 leases which had now expired. The Supreme Court, very naturally stepped in again and cancelled those “renewals” in February last. Ever since, this industry is in a limbo – with politicians running helter-skelter presenting a sorry picture of their profound helplessness for their voters!

Since the enactment of the new law and the framing of Mineral Auction Rules, 50 blocks have been successfully auctioned in this country from Karnataka, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. The data from the Union Ministry of Mines, show total revenue to accrue to states from these auctioned blocks over the 50-year leasehold tenure is estimated at Rs 1.81 trillion (including royalty and contributions by lessees towards District Mineral Foundation (DMF) and National Mineral Exploration Trust.

This year 102 blocks are being auctioned in the country, of which 43 blocks have already gone, in-principle environmental clearances have been accorded by the Centre. So, while rest of the state went into the band-wagon of auctions and started earning their fortunes – we, went into a huddle, despatching delegation after delegation, letter after letter to the Union Government and  while Odisha already auctioned 5 leases (of the 43 mentioned) and already collected a neat sum of penalties of Rs 8,200 crore from erstwhile errant mining companies against illegal and excess extractions and another Rs 5,000 crore for the District Mineral Foundation Fund (DMF), we saw no merits for making adequate plans for the change at all. We went and borrowed another Rs 1,700 crore to fund our budgets.

From these five leases (three being iron ore and one each limestone and manganese ore) Odisha generated a revenue of Rs 31,725 crore over a period of fifty years, (which is Rs 375 crore for two years(at Equated Net Present Values) for five leases against our last numbers of around Rs 450 crore over two years from38leases!

It’s important – and it deserves a close look! Mining constitutes a major economic activity for Goa. In its hey-days 2011-12, mining used to contribute around 16 per cent  of the state GDP. More than this the stoppage of this activity impacts livelihood of around 30,000 citizens directly and indirectly.

Against this backdrop – first we were told some “ordinance” would be coming to restart mining in Goa with business-as-usual terms. Then suddenly, the same people who pledged for such an ordinance – started claiming they never wanted an ordinance – and now an “amendment” (to the “amended” MMDR law) is on way, perhaps on the clause for “appointed dates” (briefly stated – to circumvent the new law itself!).

I remember whilst cancelling the “renewals” of the leases early this year, the Supreme Court had admonished the State Government for:  a) ‘acting in haste’ in the 2nd renewals, sacrificing the rule of law, for the real intentions of satisfying “avariciousness” of the Lease Owners, who were motivated by profits thru exploitation of natural resources,  b) the needs of “mining dependents” were merely “fig-leaves” used by the Government and  c) that the apparent hurry partially was, to circumvent the “uncomfortable” policy of the Union Government on auctioning fresh lease!

It’s rather perplexing therefore, how after this –can anybody expect an ordinance against the same ordinance that was brought in by the same Union Government or amend the law already amended by the same Union Government  for  years ago – defeating the very purpose of the promised transparency on sovereign resources. It is not at all difficult for me now to visualize how an enraged Raskolnikov cries out to Sonya, “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most” ….in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”!

The Road Ahead: First: The state had clearly four years in its hands, to chart out a new way – it did nothing – for example – it never cared to frame new regulations and procedures for auctions, in line with the law – like most other affected States did, let’s do it NOW!

Second: I have heard voices.. “leases will go out to “outsiders – if auctioned”.  Why do we have to undermine our own entrepreneurs and their capabilities of traversing the inorganic route? Thirdly, just think of the revenues the State, could have easily fetched– and just imagine the difference it could make to sustenance of our environment, our infrastructure, our public health and education, our tourism? Yes, we do need new regulations for that – but that’s the reason the Government exists!

Lastly, why not immediately recover the Rs 3,400 crore already lost in opacity for 6 years and use it for “Mining Dependents” even now?

And in conclusion: I think  it’s time for actions – let’s “take the new step – utter the new word”, it’s fortunately never too late – to act!    – Billion Press


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