PRIME Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance to the Goan delegation on Wednesday that he would look into the matter relating to the mining crisis offers a new ray of hope. Though the Prime Minister did not say specifically what steps his government is going to take nor did he set any time frame to resolve the crisis, the mining industry and the dependant services and workers can derive pleasure from the fact that he has taken cognizance of the matter. The central and state leaders of the BJP and its allies for long have been assuring the mining dependants that the answers to the state’s mining imbroglio rested with the Prime Minister and the file was in the Prime Minister’s Office. However, these assurances have come to nothing, as the central government has not been able to make up its mind on how to resolve the crisis. Let us hope the Centre comes out with some legislation to help the state’s mining industry and mining dependants. Failure of the central government to give any concrete solution might trigger protests in the mining belt.
Ever since mining activities came to a halt following the February 7, 2018 order of the Supreme Court people affected by it have been running from pillar to post for its resumption. The assurances given by the central and state leaders, including the national president of the BJP Amit Shah, have not been fulfilled. The Goa Mining People’s Front, the body of mining dependants, even organized protests in New Delhi, where the BJP MPs came in support of them, but they could not get an appointment with the Prime Minister. The front recently gave an ultimatum that if the central government did not provide any solution to the mining crisis by February 13 they would campaign against the BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. It was perhaps this ultimatum that drove the BJP political leaders and MPs to request the Prime Minister to see the leaders of the Goa Mining People’s Front. The Prime Minister obliged and gave them assurance to look into the matter, though he said the government would have to examine the legal implications as the shutdown had been ordered by the Supreme Court.
While the Prime Minister has said he would “look into the matter,” Union Mines Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has ruled out intervention of the central government in the state’s mining crisis. Tomar maintains that neither the state nor the Centre can allocate any lease today. There is little scope for amendment to the Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act and the Goa, Daman and Diu Mining Concessions (Abolition and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act to facilitate resumption of mining. Politicians involved in the moves to resolve the mining crisis feel that there is no solution except for auction. Had the state government not circumvented the legislation brought forth by the Modi government in 2015 and followed it in letter and spirit and not renewed the leases in accordance with previous and presumed approvals, the crisis could have perhaps been avoided. The state government renewed the leases in order to avoid their auction which could have brought in big players in the mining industry from outside. However, as iron ore leases in the state were smaller and a ceiling on excavation was set by the apex court, big players might not have been interested in them. Had the auctioning been done the process for resumption as per the rules would have been completed now and the government could have benefitted from that decision.
The mining dependants are hoping that the solution from the Prime Minister’s Office would come within the next few days. The resolution of the mining imbroglio has to be done on an urgent basis as the state could come under the election code of conduct in view of by-elections to the two Assembly constituencies and the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. In the event of no solution announced before the election code of conduct comes into effect, the mining dependants would have to wait until formation of the new government at the Centre. If the solution is found in the next few days, the Bharatiya Janata Party would get the support of mining dependant families in the upcoming elections but failure to do so could attract their wrath. Hopes of the mining dependants have been aroused with the Prime Minister agreeing to meet them with the MPs and Goa ministers on a short notice. These hopes should not be belied.