PRIME Minister Narendra Modi has assured Goans that his government was working towards finding an “early solution” to the state’s mining imbroglio. As the assurance comes from the Prime Minister himself, it has rekindled the hope of mining companies and mining dependants. The resolution to the state’s mining issue has been pending for far too long. Let us hope that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) asks the concerned ministries, particularly mines and law, to find an answer to the problem before the code of conduct for Lok Sabha polls comes into effect. Any solution should be such that it should not only facilitate early resumption of mining but also withstand the scrutiny of law. Modi has said the government would consult legal experts to find a solution. We hope the solution takes into account the interests of Goa, the Goan mining companies, the small companies and individuals that work as satellites of the mining industry and the mining workers.
For several months, the mining stakeholders in the state were given to understand by a number of politicians in Delhi and in Goa that the issue of finding a solution to the mining problem was under the consideration of the Prime Minister. The PMO had sought a detailed report about the economic impact on Goa after the apex court cancelled the second renewal of 88 iron ore mining leases in the state. However, the solution remained elusive and the mining dependants have been running from pillar to post seeking a solution. There were even assurances of a meeting taking place on the issue with the Prime Minister. However, it was found that there was no appointment ever fixed with the Prime Minister, nor was the PMO looking into any Goa mining file. It is probably to make up for that the Prime Minister chose a video meeting with party workers in South Goa to give assurance to mining stakeholders. Lok Sabha elections are approaching, and the temper of the mining dependants has been rising. An assurance at the Prime Minister’s level was probably considered by the BJP as a step to stem the alienation of the mining dependants from it. BJP workers can go to the mining dependents to say that the party has not abandoned their cause.
Though the Prime Minister has given the assurance of a solution, there is no clarity on what course the government would take in this regard, if it takes any. While finding an answer, the central government must keep the interests firstly of Goa, as mining is a major source of revenue, secondly of the Goan mining companies which operated the mines, thirdly of the small satellite businesses and fourthly of the workers. The solution must be acceptable to all the stakeholders. The solution should have provisions to prevent illegal practices and penalize the violators severely. It was a riot of greed that led to illegal mining and the shutdown by the order of the Supreme Court. Those who were found to have misused the provisions of laws should be identified and punished. Given the fact that mining has been integral to state’s economy, which also helped the mining companies as well as thousands of other directly or indirectly to make a living, its early revival is a must for the state. Any attempt to give one-time monetary package would not help the state in the long run.
As the central government has ruled out promulgation of ordinance to change the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act and Goa, Daman and Diu Mining Concession (Abolition and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act, the best option is to auction the leases. The process for auction could be expedited by making necessary changes to the relevant laws so also for obtaining the permissions from various central and state agencies. The Centre could tweak the rules to give preference to the local mining companies in the auction so that they continue to operate but with strict compliance of the laws. Entry of big players from other states may not help the locals the same way they benefitted under the aegis of companies run by Goan entrepreneurs. The other option that the government could exercise is to help the state form and run a corporation on the lines of National Mineral Development Corporation. The central government could direct the NMDC to guide the state in forming the corporation and operating it professionally. Whatever the solution, the same has to come as quickly as possible and should be acceptable to all stakeholders.