Congress president Rahul Gandhi has promised that his party will restart ‘sustainable mining’ in Goa if it was voted to power in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He gave this assurance to his party workers at a convention on Friday and to the delegation of mining dependants whom he met on Saturday. Though he made the promise he did not spell out how he plans to facilitate resumption of sustainable mining.
Goans for long have been assured by all political parties that mining activities would be resumed but the promises have remained unfulfilled. For Goans in general and the mining dependants in particular this could just turn out to be yet another promise, unless the Congress party comes out with a roadmap to convince people how it would fulfill its promise. The Congress president also expressed concerns over coal pollution in the port town of Vasco, which has triggered protests by suffering residents and restraint imposed on companies and MPT by regulatory bodies.
These are two sensitive issues that have been used for political gains in the past and need to be handled carefully. The Congress leadership should know that any attempt to milk them for electoral gains could be disastrous for the party and damage its prospects in the long run.
Making promises to restart mining is easy, but to deliver on it is not so easy. For several months the BJP and its allies in the state government kept on assuring the mining industry and small businesses associated with it that various proposals were being considered for restart of mining. They even led party delegations to ministers of the central government, and always came back to give an impression that the proposals were being actively considered.
Once they even took an all-party delegation to meet central ministers. The mining dependants, in order to build up pressure on the central government, held protests in New Delhi, to which all the BJP leaders, including MPs, came, but nothing moved in the central government on the issue. It was said by BJP leaders at one point that the file concerning the mining resumption was in the PMO. Later it was found out that there was no such file in the PMO. Finally, the BJP leaders organised a meeting of a delegation of mining dependants with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But it turned out to be just a gesture of making the mining dependants feel happy.
The BJP-led state government and central government have realized that the answer to the mining stalemate is not an easy one. Had the solution been easy, they would have come out with it long ago. The state and central governments, after continuing to promise reopening of mines through this amendment or that legislation for over a year, have all but admitted that any attempt to bypass the Supreme Court, which ordered the shutdown, might invite its censure and rejection.
The buzz has been about the government left with no option but the auction route. However, the processes for auction of leases could take months, even years, and the Congress leadership has to keep that in mind when it talks of a solution. Mining resumption could be a long and complicated process and might require amendments and policy frameworks and administrative infrastructure for its effective completion. The Congress leadership would need to draw up a legally sound plan for restart of mining in consultation with the eminent lawyers in its galaxy such as Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi. The Congress has also to assure that if the state goes for auction of leases the interests of Goan businesses in mining and the mining dependants would not cast out of consideration.
Mining issues have been used by political parties to get votes. The BJP, when in opposition, blamed the Congress for allowing illegal mining and causing the state a loss of Rs 35,000 crore. The BJP promised to act against the guilty if it came to power, but seven years down the line it has not done anything other than carry out investigations when elections are announced. The quantum of losses turned out to be a political stunt played by the BJP to pull down the Congress government. Let us hope that the Congress does not use a similar stunt.
The Congress leadership has to convince the mining industry and associated businesses and the workers of its intention by giving them a clear plan of what they would do to restart mining. As far as coal issue is concerned, the solution could be easier as all the government has to do is make sure that coal handling is done strictly in accordance with rules and regulations and take measures to contain coal pollution.