Committee report on illegal mining indicts Goa government

The controversy over the draft report of the Public Accounts Committee on illegal mining in Goa took a major turn on Friday evening with Speaker Pratapsinh Rane replacing Leader of the Opposition and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Manohar Parrikar by another party MLA, Vijay Pai-Khot, as PAC chief.

The PAC report is said to have indicted the government for illegal mining, citing loss of revenue, and huge damage to the environment and forests. Without naming Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, the report charged the Department of Mines — which Mr. Kamat has held for more than 10 years — with being responsible for illegal mining in connivance with other departments. It referred to collusion among politicians, bureaucrats and forest officials and concluded that huge quantities of iron ore were exported illegally from Goa and that mining companies had operated in reserved forest areas in violation of wildlife laws.

Though no rules were broken as the PAC's term was over, Mr. Parrikar said the haste with which the Committee was reconstituted was indicative of the impact the PAC's report had on the ruling establishment.

Pointing out that he had already convened a meeting of the PAC for Monday as he was unaware of the development, Mr. Parrikar said the Opposition was not consulted by the Speaker.

On Friday, the Speaker did not allow Mr. Parrikar to table the report in the House on the ground that it was not signed by a majority of the members. Just ahead of the two-day session, three MLAs of the ruling Congress and one belonging to the MGP, an alliance partner, refused to sign the report as they were not taken into confidence by the Chairman, and sought more time to study it.

This was in keeping with indications given earlier by the observers of the Congress High Command that the report was leaked by the Chairman and its impartiality was questionable.

Mr. Parrikar had responded by handing the report over to the Speaker, who described it as a “draft report” and promised to examine its legality before allowing it to be tabled.

The new PAC chief nomination has raised eyebrows in political circles here as Mr. Pai-Khot, elected from Canacona, is long speculated to be the third BJP MLA on his way to the Congress ahead of the coming Assembly polls. Two BJP MLAs recently resigned their seats and joined the Congress over an assurance of Congress ticket in the next election.

When contacted for his reaction to the nomination, Mr. Pai-Khot told The Hindu that he would decide whether to take it up only after he got official communication.

Asked about allegations of his being close to the Congress, he said he was fed up with denying them and would not like to comment any more. He, however, hastened to add that the allotment of PAC chairmanship was the Speaker's discretion and, therefore, it would be improper to read any political meaning in it.

In the reconstituted seven-member PAC, the Speaker has replaced all the three BJP MLAs. Francisco D'Souza and Damu Naik gave way to Laxmikant Parsekar and Milind Naik. In the Congress, Victoria Fernandes and Francisco Silveira have been replaced by Babu Kavlekar and Pratap Gauns. Significantly, Angelo Fernandes of the Congress and Dipak Dhavlikar of the MGP, both of whom put up a firm resistance to Mr. Parrikar when the report came up for signing, have been retained.