A Setback To Mining

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Supreme Court proposal might drastically reduce mining area

In a big upset, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said it will not allow any proposal for e-auction of mine blocks within the 50-kilometre radius of an eco-sensitive zone for commercial purposes. The court said its decision was intended only to ensure that ‘forests are not destroyed’. Though the bench led by Chief Justice S A Bobde was hearing a matter pertaining to Jharkhand it said it may stay e-auction of coal blocks in other states too on that ground. The court decision may deal a death blow to the mining industry. The court might set up an expert committee to examine whether an area near the proposed mining sites in Jharkhand qualifies to be an eco-sensitive zone or not. For sound economic reasons, the central government strongly opposed the proposal of the apex court, bringing it to the notice of the judges that if the 50-km distance parameter was applied uniformly, mining in smaller states like Goa would be impossible. Mining in other states too would be adversely affected, as minerals are usually found in forest areas or closer to the forests.

Of course, it is extremely necessary that illegalities in the mining sector be curbed. There have been violations right from allotment of the leases to the operations carried out by the leaseholders and violation of forest and environmental rules. The authorities failed to curb the illegalities, which has resulted in environmentalists and others aggrieved to approach the courts to redress their grievances. It is sad to note that though there are several laws to deal with violations they are seldom applied.

Goa has had its share of illegalities in the mining sector. Scores of cases of illegal mining operations by lessees and other parties were filed by the government over the last eight years but hardly any case has been taken to an effective legal conclusion. It is not only the leaseholders who have been accused of resorting to illegalities but also government officials. Justice P K Mishra, who relinquished his post as the Lokayukta of the state on completing his term, had faulted the action of former chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar, former mining secretary Pawan Kumar Sain and former director of mines Prasanna Acharya in granting second renewal to leaseholders of 80 mines hours before the new law to regulate mining was to be enforced across the country. Justice Mishra had directed that the probe into the alleged illegalities be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Surprisingly, the state government and the Governor rejected the findings of the Lokayukta to probe the actions of Parsekar, Sain and Acharya, a decision that will only strengthen the belief of the courts that the governments are interested in condoning illegalities in mining and hence strong checks have to be put in place.

The Goa government has only weakened its case for resumption of mining activities by that decision. The occasion demands that the state and central governments try their best to convince the apex court not to impose the 50-km distance parameter as it would lead to crippling of the mining sector and end up in millions of jobs being lost. All the promises made by the state and central government to restart mining might come to nothing if they do not get the apex court proposal changed. The workers in the mining sector and the workers in the sectors such as transportation and retail that have been waiting for mining to resume would have no hope to lean on if the state and central governments fail on that count. There has to be a balance between development and environmental protection. The state and central governments cannot go on paying lip service to protection of the environment and forests and still hope the Supreme Court, which ordered the closure of mining in the state, will allow them room for discretion in deciding the location of the mines. The governments have forfeited their trust with the Supreme Court by not taking strong and effective measures to bring the guilty of violations to book, to put a transparent system in place and to prepare a roadmap for sustainable mining. If they start making amends, the Supreme Court might do some rethinking.