Heeding pleas to restart mining in Goa, the Supreme Court on Monday lifted the complete ban on extraction of iron ore in the state but made resumption of mining activities conditional on issuance of fresh leases.
The decision offers a ray of hope to thousands thrown out of jobs after the court shut down mining in the wake of reports of massive illegal extraction of iron ore though awarding of fresh leases will be time-consuming.
The SC order has implications beyond Goa as the mining sector’s woes contributed to the economic slowdown along with low growth in manufacturing. Mining has been affected in Karnataka and Odisha as well.
During April 2012-January 2013, India’s iron ore exports fell about 68.27 per cent to 16.35 million tonnes year-on-year. In April-September 2013, the mining sector contracted 1.6 per cent. It has been negative in the two previous fiscals.
The mining sector has also been hurt by Coalgate and long pendency of key amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act to allow private firms to engage in mining through competitive bidding. The Goa government and various bodies have been seeking a review of the ban, saying legal mining be allowed as thousands of livelihoods and state revenues are being severely impacted.
In its order, the SC bench limited iron ore extraction at 20 million tonnes a year and cancelled mining leases that had been given extensions after 2007 after completion of 20-year renewal periods.
This is a hurdle the mining industry and the state government have to cross and the role of the new government at the Centre, expected to be in office by May, will be crucial in ensuring quick clearances.
On Monday, the green bench of justices AK Patnaik, SS Nijjar and FMI Kalifulla ordered cancellation of all mining leases given extension after 2007 even after completion of the maximum 20 years of renewal period and upheld the state as well as central government’s decisions in September 2012 in this regard.
It also set out conditions like defining a one-km buffer zone around national parks and sanctuaries as no-mining areas and asked the Union ministry of environment and forests to issue a notification within six months demarcating eco-sensitive zones around national parks and sanctuaries.
As an interim measure, the court permitted resumption of iron and other ore mining by those granted fresh leases by the state government in accordance with “its policy decision and Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act”.
“Until the final report is submitted by the expert committee, the state government will, in the interests of sustainable development and intergenerational equity, permit a maximum annual excavation of 20 million MT from the mining leases in the state of Goa other than from dumps,” said Justice Patnaik, who authored the judgment for the bench.
The bench asked Goa pollution control board to strictly monitor the air and water pollution levels in the mining areas and furnish relevant data to the expert committee. The court also asked the state to prepare inventory of the sale of iron ore through e-auction.
It asked the monitoring committee to submit its final report on the utilization and appropriation of the sale proceeds of the iron ore within six months and directed iron ore mining lessees to pay 10 per cent of sale price to Goan Iron Ore Permanent Fund.
“The state government will within six months frame a comprehensive scheme with regard to the Goan Iron Ore Permanent Fund in consultation with the Central Empowered Committee for sustainable development and intergenerational equity and submit the same to the court,” the bench said.
Another petition filed by NGO ‘Common Cause’ sought immediate stoppage of iron ore mining in the wake of damning Justice Shah commission report. The bench asked Odisha government and the Centre to respond to the petition, which requested the court to cancel existing iron ore mining leases saying the situation in the state was worse than Goa and Karnataka.
According to the NGO, Justice Shah commission had indicted Navin Patnaik government saying “from the inquiries conducted by this commission, it is apparent that all modes of illegal mining … are being committed in the state of Odisha.”