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Finding A Way To Reopen Goa’s Mines

MINING – or to use the environmentally correct term, sustainable mining – must restart as it is an important sector of the Goan economy and provides jobs and self-employment to thousands of people directly or indirectly. The state government has weighed in various options: appeal to the Supreme Court, auction, an amendment to the Goa, Daman and Diu Mining Concession (Abolition and Declaration as Leases) Act, a Presidential ordinance. Finally, the government has picked the amendment/ordinance option. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar told the Assembly on Thursday the state would go to the Centre with the proposal and seek amendment to the Act. As Parrikar enjoys the goodwill of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cabinet colleagues, his proposal should receive the central government’s attention and their response should be positive. Earlier, the central government had not shown keenness on the state proposal for filing an appeal in the court, so they should be responsive to the new proposal which is in their hands.

There has been a consensus among political parties in the state about restart of mining. An all-party delegation went to the Centre some months back. If an amendment to the Goa, Daman and Diu Mining Concession (Abolition and Declaration as Leases) Act has to be passed in the Parliament, it will need the support of Congress party. Congress president Rahul Gandhi had recently assured the mining dependants who called on him in New Delhi that his party would extend all help to them. Much will depend on how the discussion goes on August 3 when a private member’s resolution on the mining issue comes up in the Assembly. The Congress might find it difficult to take an entirely negative stand on the option of amendment. The monsoon session of the Parliament is scheduled to end on August 10. An amendment not being possible to move, the Centre might have to issue an ordinance to amend the law to allow mining to resume.

Whatever the option the government takes, the real issue is mining must resume. Mining has sustained lakhs of Goans, until illegal mining surfaced in 2011, leading to suspension of mining operations in September 2012. Thereafter revocation of environment clearances, various litigations and orders of the Supreme Court led to the crippling of the mining sector. Though mining was resumed in 2015, the apex court took objections to the state government’s renewal of leases to the existing leaseholders, striking them down on February 7 this year and directing that mining activities be stopped from March 16. Since then all the mines have been closed in the state. The state authorities have been considering various options. There was a day of violent protest by mining dependants. People in the mining belt, who depended on mining for their incomes, have been living a life of hardship. Schoolchildren are denied the facility of the bus transport the mining companies used to provide. With incomes down, small businesses in the belt have also been on a downswing.

Now that the state government has chosen the best possible option to restart mining, they should pursue it to fruition by convincing the central government of the need for reviving a key sector of the state economy and providing employment to thousands of people. At the same time, the state government must ensure that laws are fully adhered to by them and the mineowners. It was owing to the illegalities and the non-compliance with the statutory requirements with regard to air and water pollution and transportation of ore that the court had stopped mining. The government needs to build a robust mechanism to ensure that the mining operations are conducted in accordance with the law and there was no scope for any violations by lease owners or fly-by-night operators. It is only when the apex court is assured of a robust preventive mechanism that an amendment to the Goa, Daman and Diu Mining Concession (Abolition and Declaration as Leases) Act might become acceptable. On their part, the leaseholders must conduct their operations in accordance with the law, for any violations would become a subject of fresh litigation. If mining resumes with total adherence to the laws, rules and regulations, if nothing happens to trigger fears of the repeat of the past, the society at large will also welcome it. After all, other industries and sectors do continue their operations across the state. Why should mining be deemed an outcast if it, like other industries, follows the laws and is under the surveillance of the regulatory and environmental watchdogs?

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