State govt must order investigation into mining lease renewals case
THE Lokayukta has found the renewal of Goa’s 88 mining leases in 2014-15 against the law and asked the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) to register first information report against former chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar, former mines secretary Pawan Kumar Sain and former director of mining and geology department Prasanna Acharya for their role in it. Justice (retd) P K Mishra said the three abused their powers to grant illegal favours to mining leaseholders. The Lokayukta has further ordered that the case be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for an independent and in-depth inquiry into the illegal renewals. Justice Mishra, who began probing the alleged illegalities in second renewals in 2018, found that the renewals were contrary to the Grant of Mining Leases Policy that provided for competitive bidding or auction process for granting leases.
It remains to be seen how much adversely the Lokayukta’s order declaring lease renewals as illegal will impact the scenario which has been building up of late of mining finally resuming in the state after a long shutdown owing to the Supreme Court order. For, the Lokayukta’s order implicates not only the former chief minister and key mining officers but also the mining leaseholders who benefited from their decision. A full investigation alone can find the truth about the alleged mala fide in the grant of the renewals without assigning any reason why the leases were renewed without waiting for completion of inquiry by the special investigating team (SIT). Justice Mishra has further declared that Sain and Acharya were unfit to continue to hold offices as they abused their official positions to confer huge benefit on some mining leaseholders. The Union government had published the draft Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 2014 on November 14, 2014 and the new rules were set to come into effect from January 12, 2015. The Goa government felt that new rules would be disadvantageous to leaseholders and in order to circumvent the new policy decided to grant the second renewals in a rather hurried process, according to the order.
Doubts raised in the state after the grant of renewals hurriedly have been confirmed with the Lokayukta’s order, which said that the state authorities overstepped the law and granted a second renewal to mining leases without waiting for any approval or deemed approval of the mining plan from the Indian Bureau of Mines or any other authority in order to avoid the applicability of the new rules. Surprisingly some of the leases granted second renewals were under the scanner of the SIT appointed by the state government to inquire into serious violations of rules. With the Lokayukta having found that there was sufficient evidence to proceed against former chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar, former mines secretary Pawan Kumar Sain and former director of mining and geology department Prasanna Acharya for their involvement, it remains to be seen whether the state government would proceed against them. Parsekar lost the constituency to a turncoat and is no more an MLA. Pawan Kumar Sain is presently working in the secretariat of the President of India Ram Nath Kovind as director of the administrative wing. Prasanna Acharya is additional collector-I, South Goa.
Parsekar has denied any wrongdoing. He maintains that he took the decision as per the directive of the High Court and in accordance with procedures. The ball is now in the court of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant. He has said that his government will study the order and decide further course of action. At the same time he has said the Lokayukta’s order was only recommendatory. Sawant needs to remember that the public at large is watching and shelving of investigation into the case could dent his government’s image. The BJP has always accused the Congress government of corruption. If the BJP government does not order probe into the case dealt with the Lokayukta, it would be seen practising double standards. One of the grounds why mining was shut down by the Supreme Court was strong evidence of illegal and irregular decisions that established a clear nexus between the leaseholders and the politicians and officials. The state government must avoid further condemnation and hand over the investigation of the case to the CBI.