The BJP-led state government’s promise to get the Mines and Mineral Development and Regulation (MMDR) Act amended to facilitate resumption of mining has proved to be an illusion. The mining dependants, after their protests in Delhi, have realized that the central government did not have any amendment on its agenda, though the local BJP leadership had kept on saying it was. Goa Mining People’s Front leader Puti Gaonkar has openly shared his impression that the Centre was not in favour of amending the MMDR Act. The mining dependants feel they were taken for a ride by the state and central leaders who went on assuring them that a solution to the problem was close. Now it is clear that the central leaders are in favour of auction to restart mining. Rumours have been in the air for a long time that the central government wanted Goa to take the auction route to restart mining. Government sources couched it in terms of adherence to the directives of the Supreme Court, but local mining companies and mining dependants clearly saw it as desire to open the gates of Goa mining to big players.
Some idea of the thinking of the central leaders was made known to the state leaders when a state delegation met Union Mines Minister Narendra Singh Tomar some months ago. If the central leaders wanted that mining leases should be auctioned why did they not ask the state government to go ahead with the process, rather than keeping the whole state hanging on to the hope of MMDR amendment? If it was done, some progress would have been made by now. It is sad to note that the central and state leaders played with the sentiments of the mining dependants by promising that they were taking steps to earliest resumption of mining. The hopes of the mining companies and mining dependants were kept alive by sending delegations to New Delhi at frequent intervals, delegations which always came back with an assurance that the solution to mining resumption was coming forth soon. However, a year passed since the apex court order, but there was no solution to the issue in sight. As recently as last month, BJP leaders told the mining dependants that the file to amend MMDR Act had been moved to the Prime Minister’s Office. In reality, there was no file on the subject in the PMO.
If the process for auctioning starts now it will take at least two to three years for the process to complete and another few months before the mining actually starts, which means that mining could resume only in 2022. And there is every possibility of Goan mining companies losing out to big mining companies in the auction process. The other option before the state is to form a mining corporation. Many in the state favour a mining corporation as it would help in getting approvals from statutory authorities faster. The state government has a national model, the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) to follow in this regard. That way mining would be under the state government’s control. However, the government would have to allocate resources to hire and build expertise. Being a public sector undertaking, a mining corporation would also run the risk of becoming a den of corruption. A corporation will therefore have to be a very bold and cautious decision.
Whatever option is exercised, the process should begin forthwith. With the mining dependants accusing the BJP government of planning to let big players in mining business take over mining in Goa through the auction route, the government must make the whole process transparent. The government has to take all the stakeholders – the state mining companies and mining dependants – on board and make sure that their interests are protected in whatever option is exercised. Of course, ecological safeguards must remain in place, with ceiling on mining output that the Supreme Court imposed. With desperation among mining dependants growing to a breaking point, the state government may not be able to contain it with yet another promise. However, the reality that has struck in the face of mining dependants in course of their protest in Delhi is that the central government is not keen to work a solution for resumption of mining in Goa until a new government takes over after the Lok Sabha elections. We have to keep our fingers crossed to see how the mining dependants’ desperation plays out.