“A large number of leases are being operated by persons other than lessees, and in violation of Mineral Concession Rules”

The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) has asked the Supreme Court not to permit the mines in Goa to extract minerals from the dumps located outside the approved lease areas till fresh environmental clearance is obtained.

In October, acting on a petition filed by the Goa Foundation, the Forest Bench stayed all mining operations, including transport of mined minerals (iron ore and manganese), in the leases in the State.

The Bench made it clear that no minerals, whether lying in the mine-head or the stockyard, would be transported until further orders and asked the CEC to file its response to the petition. This ruling was based on the report of the Justice M.B. Shah Committee of Inquiry into illegal mining. In its interim report, the CEC said: “As against the total production of 1553.724 lakh tonnes of iron ore between 2006-07 and 2010-11, a total of 1949.369 lakh tonnes of Goan origin has been exported, i.e., the total quantity exported is 395.645 lakh tonnes more than the total quantity reported to have been legally produced.

“In addition, part of the iron ore has been used for domestic consumption. There was every reason to believe that the excess quantity that was exported was illegally mined…”

It said a very large number of leases were being operated by persons other than the lessees, and in flagrant violation of the provisions of the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960 — and, in all probability, with the tacit approval of the State government. Through the unregistered and dubious general power of attorneys and other documents, the leases were allowed to be operated by persons having clout, with the leases granted to individual persons treated as those given to partnership firms, and such persons included as partners in the firms and the genuine leaseholders retiring. Two such leases were being operated by the subsidiaries of a company registered outside India.

The environmental clearances granted for mining in areas, comprising forestland, full or in part, might be directed to be operative only after the approvals were granted under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, for the non-forestry use of the forestland. Till then, all such clearances should be held in abeyance, and the mining operations should not be permitted to resume, the CEC said. The Bench said: “The operation may be allowed to be resumed by the lessees not involved in any illegalities only after the Macro-Level Environment Impact Assessment Study Report of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education is received, and a decision is taken on the taluk-wise ceiling on the permissible annual production from all the leases.

“The resumption of operations by lessees found involved in illegalities, including the violation of Rule 37 (1) of the Mineral Concession Rules, and working beyond the sanctioned boundaries should not be permitted till a decision was taken on compensation payable by such leaseholders, and the preparation and implementation of the reclamation and resettlement plans were completed.”

The CEC said it would file “its recommendations in due course on the punitive action against the erring officials and other public functionaries; compensation payable by the defaulting leaseholders and others; cancellation of the leases found involved in substantial illegal mining and other serious illegalities; and other issues, if any, which have not been adequately dealt with in this report.”

It wanted the court to consider passing directions on compensation payable by the leaseholders found involved in illegal mining; cancellation of the leases found involved in substantial illegal mining; and punitive action against the erring officers and others.

The case will come up for further hearing on January 4.