Replies to petition filed by the NGO, Goa Foundation

The Goa government on Tuesday filed a reply in the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court regarding the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by the Goa Foundation over illegal mining claiming that the extraction, which the petitioner had questioned, was from dumps and excess mining did not take place.

The affidavit was submitted on behalf of Director of Mines and Geology Arvind Loliekar in the course of the hearing on the PIL which, inter alia, demanded implementation of comprehensive Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-based system of monitoring and control of the mining production, transport, and sale of mineral ores produced in the State within a time-bound period.

The department has given an undertaking that royalty would not be accepted over and above the quantity stipulated for the mine in the Environmental Clearance (EC) and no-objection certificate (NoC) would not be issued to mines whose production exceeded EC limits.

Referring to the summarised statements of 2009-10 and 2010-11 (EC) limits, production and exports, submitted by the petitioner, the department said that the production as seen from the statement appeared to have crossed EC limits. However, on scrutiny of the records, it was seen that fresh production or production generated because of excavation at the mine site was 34.93 million tonnes and production due to handling of dumps was 12.60 million tonnes in 2009-10, and fresh production was 32.93 million tonnes, and production due to dump handling is 15.45 million tonnes for 2010-11.

‘Within limits'

As such, it said that the overall production of fresh excavation had not exceeded the rated capacity stipulated in the EC. It said that an exercise was undertaken to verify whether any individual mine had exceed the EC limits based on the monthly returns filed by the lease-holders in respect of their leases, and it found only one case during the year 2010-2011 where production has exceeded EC limits by 6,000 tonnes approximately. The production of earlier years was under verification for updating, it stated.

Giving the history of dumps at the sites of mines since 1950s, the Department contended that when China opened up its market to 45 per cent Fe, not only was the freshly excavated mineral ore exported but mining companies started re-handling these old dumps since these consisted of ore of grade less than 58 per cent Fe, which were earlier rejects but now had market for export. It was because of these re-handling of old dumps that the production appeared to be inflated in excess of EC limits. It brought to the notice of the court that the department had recently stopped handling/re-handling of dumps.

The department admitted that of the 410 mineral traders registered under these rules, who are required to submit monthly returns in Form B and C with details of stock/storage/sale and the details of export, those who did not file returns would be issued notices soon.

In order to ensure that no ore was exported without payment of royalty and without disclosing the source of ore, the NoC system had been introduced whereby no ship carrying iron ore was allowed to sail without having a “No Objection Certificate” issued by the Directorate of Mines and Geology.

The Department has given an undertaking to the Court that in order to ensure that the production does not exceed the EC limits, no royalty would be accepted on mineral ore produced exceeding EC limits based on the returns submitted by the lease holders.

Since the magnitude of mineral ore transportation is huge — to the tune of 48 million tonnes as in 2010-11 — which takes place within a radius of 30 km, it is difficult for the Department to keep accurate and timely checks on the transportation of ore. In order to overcome the problems of transportation, overloading of trucks as mentioned in the petition, the Department is introducing a system of monitoring the mineral ore transportation from the mines right up to the loading jetty sites by installing an electronic monitoring system known as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) System. This system, it claimed, will make the mineral ore transportation monitoring a foolproof system giving no scope for tampering and manipulating of the details.

For the installation of the system and for making it operational for the whole of Goa, it would require not less than three months since it will involve installation of infrastructure, building up of software, and training the staff for the supervision. On October 10, the Department has informed all the mining companies about the working of the RFID System and the manner in which it shall be implemented.

‘Minimal evasion'

The department claimed in the affidavit that evasion of royalty on mineral ores in Goa was minimal. Notwithstanding the affidavit presented in the court on Tuesday, the implementation of the RFID has run into rough weather as the Goa Mineral Ore Exporters' Association — the body representing iron ore exporters — last week promptly rejected the Department's request to it to take up the responsibility of implementation stating it was not a monitoring authority.

On the department's NoC being made mandatory for vessels at the ports, the Goa-based Momrugao Port, the country's major iron ore exporting port, recently picked holes in the NoC system and instead called for strict measures by State and Central agencies to control illegal mining and exports through joint collaboration.

On the issue of extraction of ore removed from dumps, the Goa State Pollution Control Board officials told The Hindu last week that they had sought the advice of Solicitor-General Rohinton Nariman on whether the removal of ore from dumps needed separate EC. Director of Mines Loliyekar told The Hindu on Tuesday that Goa Advocate-General Subodh Kantak had ruled out the need for separate EC. But the State Law Department was awaiting the Solicitor-General's opinion.