- Three years since iron ore mining was shut down due to a court order, various stakeholders of Goa’s mining industry are looking at all possible solutions to resume it.
- Ranging from the extension of mining leases, auctioning of mines, setting up a state-owned mineral corporation or a cooperative, the stakeholders have diverse solutions for the resumption of mining.
- While the mine owners and state government want to extend the mining leases, the central government is in favour of auctions. The farmer associations and activists are determined to set up a cooperative to ensure sustainable mining.
In less than 100 days, in February 2021, it will be three years since India’s apex court stopped iron ore mining in Goa. The state is yet to find a path to resume operations. Various stakeholders involved – the government, mining industry, environmentalists or residents of the mining-affected villages – have proposed a solution for the path ahead for mining in the coastal state. A consensus however, eludes them thus far.
In early 2018, the apex court had quashed 88 mining leases for violation of mining procedures and asked the state government to issue fresh leases instead of renewing existing ones while directing the Goa government to recover about Rs. 350 billion from the miners.
Since then, there have been numerous attempts to restart mining in the state, but now the decision is stuck on whether it should be commercial mining as desired by the central government, extending the existing mining leases till 2037 or setting up a state mineral corporation or a cooperative mining structure as desired by groups of farming associations.
On November 30, Goa’s Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said that the central government is in favour of opening the iron ore mine leases of Goa for auctions. He said that he was worried that if an outfit from outside of Goa won the auction, the local employees might get affected. The chief minister also explained that they are trying for a different solution, which could be either extending the existing leases till 2037 or setting up a state mineral corporation.
The central government, however, has made it clear that it is in the favour of auctioning the leases. Both the government of Goa and the government of India are led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
While the representatives from Goa Mining People’s Front, a union for mining dependents, and the state’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, have stressed that they don’t care how the government ensures that mining is restarted, they just want it to be resumed in the fastest way possible.
The state’s truck association representatives, some activists, and farmer associations are in favour of a state mining corporation, while some farmers and activists have a preference for community/cooperative mining. But all are clear about one thing – it can’t be business as usual for long.
The policy decision on how iron ore mining resumes in Goa is crucial for the farmer and tribal communities whose lives have been intertwined with the industry and has been seriously impacted by it over the decades.
How integral is mining to Goa’s economy?
Mining has been an important part of Goa’s economy. The local names involved in mining, Sesa Goa, the Timblos, the Chowgules, the Dempos, the Salgaocars, today own and run a lot of businesses and enterprises in Goa. Ranging from football clubs to schools and colleges to real estate and construction, nearly every industry in Goa has the stamp of the mining families.
The state’s political system is not untouched by mining either. It is deeply entwined with the mining industry. Goa’s first chief minister, Dayanand Balkrishna Bandodkar, fondly known as Bhausaheb Bandodkar, was also a wealthy mine owner. According to media reports, investigations have revealed that mining companies donated many a time to BJP as well as Congress in the last 15 years.
But decades of iron ore mining took a toll on the state’s local ecology and threw up numerous instances of mining-related laws being violated. The 2013 report of the Justice MB Shah Commission, which was formed to look into illegal mining across India, revealed in its report for Goa a number of illegalities carried out by the mining companies, including mines, being operational even after their leases had expired and mines extracting ore beyond permissible limits.
This caused pollution and accidents, destroyed farming land and water supply of villages in the surrounding area. The report held that there was a scam of Rs 350 billion in Goa’s mining business. This report formed the bedrock of subsequent litigations in the supreme court.
Between, 2012 and 2018, the case saw many ups and downs before the apex court in February 2018 quashed 88 mining leases in violation of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 (the MMDR Act), the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Later, in August 2019, Vedanta Limited, which is one of the largest mining leaseholders in Goa approached the Bombay High Court demanding a declaration that its mining lease, as per the provisions of the amended MMDR Act 2015, was valid for 50 years and sought extension of mining leases till 2037. But the high court failed to ensure any relief after which the company moved the Supreme Court where the case is still ongoing. The Goa government has also filed a review petition in the SC challenging the 2018 judgement, and both the cases are scheduled for hearing in January-February 2021.
Can a legislative cure be the solution to restart iron ore mining in Goa?
The representatives of the Goa Mineral Ore Export Association are seeking a “legislative cure.”
“The situation for the industry, dependents, stakeholders including the state of Goa has and is increasingly getting difficult with delays in the resumption of mining in Goa,” Glenn Kalampavara, the general secretary of the association, told Mongabay-India. “In my opinion, a legislative cure to extend the benefit of the maximum tenure of 50 years (till 2037) would be the ideal solution,” he said.
The amended MMDR Act, 2015 includes a section that states that all mining leases will be granted for a period of fifty years and notes that on expiry, the lease shall be up for auction.
However, on December 7, 2020, Gawada Kunbi Velip and Dhangar Federation (GAKUVED), a federation of tribal communities in Goa since 1981, filed an application for intervention in the Vedanta’s case. The application said that the petitioner’s assertion that the lease would last for 50 years from 1987 was “misplaced both in law and fact.” It said that the leases were retrospectively made valid from December 20, 1961, and that they have expired by now. Abiding by the Supreme Court judgement, leaseholders need to apply for fresh leases.
Along with this, Goa Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, whose applications have driven the case in the apex court, believes that the legislative cure is effectively giving huge sums to the miners, which is unfair and unconstitutional.
This is when the central government wants auction, in accordance with the amended MMDR 2015, and is in favour of granting the mining leases through the e-auctioning process. In May 2020, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced reforms in the mining sector, including that 500 blocks of minerals across India will be auctioned in a “composite exploration-cum-mining-cum-production regime.”
A meeting between Goa’s chief minister and the union minister of mines earlier this month also indicated the central government’s preference for auctions over “legislative cure.”
“If the mines were auctioned, it will change the political scenario of the state,” said Rahul Basu of the Goenchi Mati Movement, a movement started by a group of individuals advocating a set of reforms to mining – based on the principles of intergenerational equity and custodianship to the environment.
“Another problem with auctions is, it will leave the industry in the hands of a few again. Zero loss will not be possible to achieve,” he told Mongabay-India.
Authorities prefer state mining corporation as the solution
On December 6, Goa Foundation along with representatives from various farming associations in the mining belt called upon the state to set up a mining corporation.
“The mine owners who have been doing illegal mining need to be blacklisted. How can we allow them to come back?” asked Claude Alvares, director of Goa Foundation. “They need to return the loot of Rs. 350 billion, and never be allowed to mine again,” he said.
He also questioned why the union mines minister chose to have a meeting with the same illegal mine owners. In an open letter to Union Coal Minister Prahlad Joshi, Alvares asked how only former leaseholders could have been associated with the meeting. “Such a consultation, favouring a few, is not in harmony with the demand for equal treatment guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution of India…”
He emphasised that discussions around mining should not be limited to the mining lobby but should also include the mining-affected villages. “Any person from any part of Goa – being an equal owner of the ore – has the right to a say and to express her concerns and demands,” he wrote.
Alvares, along with some farmer associations stated that setting up a state-owned mineral corporation is the best idea. “We insist that all mining leases be kept with the Goa Mineral Development Corporation which will employ only professionals and that only the contracts for extraction of ore – with a reasonable profit of 10-15 percent – be tendered for future mining in the state. This would enable village-level cooperatives and even mining employees who can form associations to take up such contracts,” he suggested.
He said that all ore extracted by any party in Goa under tender must be handed over to the Corporation which will e-auction it internationally to get the best price. “The corporation will place all the money received from sales – after extraction costs are paid – in the Goa Iron Ore Permanent Fund. Only the real income from the fund will be available for distribution as a citizen’s dividend, among every individual in the state as all are equal owners,” Alvares added.
Farmer and tribal groups want to set up village cooperatives to control mining
The farmer and tribal groups call for setting up of village cooperatives so that they can control the level and the subsequent impacts from iron ore mining.
Hanumant Parab, a farmer and activist based in Pissurlem, said they prefer community mining. “We want the state government to take ownership of the mine, and allow us villages to run them as cooperatives,” he told Mongabay-India.
“We can then do it properly, sustainably, and ensure that other things also prosper – like our cattle rearing, farming, horticulture,” he said.
Abhijeet Prabhudesai of Rainbow Warriors, a Goa-based non-profit, said there is no way they want any mining by a state corporation or corporates. “There are two things we can do. One is to have a moratorium on mining for the next 20 years. Let the water and forests restore, and then let the children decide what they want to do,” Prabhudesai told Mongabay-India.
He stressed that if at all iron ore mining has to be done then it should be done through an all-inclusive cooperative of the people of the village. “A state corporation would run it like a profit-making industry. They can get even more industry-oriented and anti-people than the corporates. The money will never come to the local economy,” he said. In a cooperative, every person of the village becomes an equal shareholder, profits are distributed equally and they can together decide what they want to do,” he said.
Ravindra Velip, a 32-year-old activist from Cawrem, a mining-affected village in south Goa is the first person in Goa to register a mining cooperative.
“We have about 260 members, all skilled in mining-related tasks. In 2015, the amendment to the MMDR Act was introduced, according to which, the only way we could obtain leases as a cooperative was through auctions. So now, one way to resolve is to let the government keep the leases, and give us, the cooperative, the raising contracts for the extractions and transport of ore. That way, people of Goa gain maximum benefit from mining, and most importantly, we get to monitor the activity and ensure sustainability,” he said.
Banner image: A mining pit in Sonshi village in Goa. Photo by Supriya Vohra.