Panaji: The contours of Goa’s legacy industry, iron ore mining, is set for a tectonic shift with the BJP-led coalition state government poised to repossess 88 mining tracts leased to wealthy barons for generations, some of which were also transferred to multinational companies like Vedanta Resources.
Most mining tracts in the state, located in the hinterland away from the golden shoreline, were given as concessions to bidders by the Portuguese government during the colonial era, but a series of illegalities, including a Rs 35,000 crore illegal mining scam as well as irregularities in the lease renewal processes, had forced the Supreme Court to crack down on the industry, which has been shut down to a large extent since 2018.
The attempt to repossess 88 mining leases, with the objective of handing them over to the recently formed state government’s mining corporation, has signalled yet another attempt by successive state governments to restart the mining industry in the state, which at its peak accounted for nearly 30 per cent of Goa’s Gross Domestic Product.
Last week, the state government issued notices to the leaseholders of the 88 mining leases – the leases were incidentally scrapped by the SC in 2018 – directing them to comply with Rule 12(1) (hh) of the Minerals (other than Atomic and Hydrocarbons Energy Minerals) Concession Rules, 2016, and vacate leases “within a period of one calendar month w.e.f. from 6th May to 6th June 2022 failing which further action will be initiated as deemed appropriate in terms of the MMDR Act and the Rules made thereunder”.
The notice also directed leaseholders to clear ore, engines, machinery, plants, buildings, structures and tramways from the sites.
While the Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association, a collective of iron ore exporters in Goa, has confirmed receipt of the notices, the lobby group has said that the matter was still pending in the High Court.
The Goa Mining People’s Front, a collective of workers and small businesses linked to the trade, has also urged the state government to expedite the resumption of mining.
“People in the belt have been waiting for years for it to resume. This process should be completed as soon as possible so that mining activity begins at the earliest,” the Front’s convenor Puti Gaonkar said.
When mining was at its peak between 2009-2011, nearly 13,000 trucks and dozens of river barges ferried iron ore from the sites to the state’s major port in South Goa for export to China, Japan and other destinations. Nearly all the machinery, barge and truck owners now await the resumption of mining activity, through the e-auctioning route, which according to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant is expected to be conducted by the newly-formed Goa Mineral Development Corporation.
Environmentalist Claude Alvares, who heads the Goa Foundation, an NGO which has been keeping tabs on illegal mining and seeking judicial intervention in sectoral illegalities for nearly two decades, has urged the state government to ensure that the process of e-auctioning by the Corporation should be conducted in a thorough manner, without being influenced by mining companies. He stated that the state’s economy cannot “afford another disaster”.