Mines had flourished without clearance from the standing committee of the National Board of Wildlife: panel

Mining would not be permitted within one kilometre of national parks and sanctuaries in Goa in the future, the environment ministry has decided in an order that could take the state one step closer to re-start iron ore excavation in a regulated fashion.

The ministry passed the order to this effect on Thursday resolving one of the several issues that requiring a solution to restart regulated mining in the coastal state.

It ordered that areas ranging up to one kilometre beyond the boundaries of the national parks and sanctuaries in the state would be declared as Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 where mining activities would be banned.

The Justice Shah Commission had reported that mines had flourished in the heart of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the state without the clearance from the standing committee of the National Board of Wildlife, as mandated by the Supreme Court.

Subsequently mining was suspended in the State and a case in the matter is being heard by the Supreme Court at present. The environment ministry after ordering suspension of work had begun to re-evaluate each existing mine for its environmental clearances under various green laws.

Following up on an earlier Supreme Court order, which had so far been flouted, the Goa state government also sent proposals to the Centre for declaring ESZs around the protected wildlife areas. The Supreme Court had demanded that the centre and all states to decided the boundaries of the ESZs across all protected wildlife areas or let a 10 km periphery around them be accepted as ESZs by default.

The state government proposed that natural features around the boundaries delineating the 6 wildlife areas be used as the limit of the ESZs. The ministry set up a committee under the chairmanship of National Tiger Conservation Authority head Rajesh Gopal to study the proposals. The committee found that in many cases the natural features suggested as boundaries of the ESZ ended up within a few hundred metres of the parks. The committee instead recommended a zone of no-mining up to one kilometre from the boundary.

It also recommended that mining should be banned in these areas in future but existing mines around two of the six sanctuaries should be phased out over time to ensure there is no sudden loss of livelihood for the people. The ministry accepted the report and has ordered that in cases of Bhagwan Mahaveer and Netravali Wildlife Sanctuaries mining would be phased out based on state government’s plans.

With the case still going-on in the Supreme Court, the ministry has said that it would take out the draft notifications to the effect for each sanctuary but these would be subject to the final decision of the apex court.