The Supreme Court on Monday lifted the ban on mining iron ore in Goa, but put an annual cap of 20 million tonnes on excavation.

In its judgment, the Green Bench, comprising Justices A.K. Patnaik, S.S. Nijjar and Ibrahim Kalifulla, said: “The panel [an expert committee] had suggested that for the time being, annual excavation of 20 million tonnes of iron ore may be permitted in Goa with adequate monitoring of its impact on different ecological and environmental parameters, which will also help the expert committee in its future appraisal.”

Justice Patnaik said: “We find from the report of the expert committee that Goa heavily depended on iron ore mining for revenue as well as employment. The legislative policy behind the Mines and Minerals Development Regulations Act made by Parliament is mineral development through mining.”

The Bench said a ban to protect the environment would seriously affect the livelihood of nearly 1.5 lakh people in the State who were employed in the industry. Many people had taken loans and bought lorries for transportation of iron ore. The State government’s policy was to encourage mineral mining.

“We cannot, therefore, prohibit mining altogether, but if mining has to continue, the lessees who benefit the most from it must contribute 10 per cent of their sale proceeds to the Goan Iron Ore Permanent Fund for sustainable mining,” the Bench said.

It directed the State Department of Mines and Geology and the State Pollution Control Board to monitor mining, in consultation with other statutory bodies.

The Bench asked the State government to frame a comprehensive scheme, in consultation with the Central Empowered Committee, and submit a report within six months.

The Bench rejected a plea to quash the Justice Shah Commission report on the ground that no notice was given to the lessees. The commission found large-scale irregularities in mining.

But the Bench said: “We cannot also direct prosecution of the mining lessees on the basis of the findings in the report of the Justice Shah Commission, if they have not been given the opportunity of being heard and to produce evidence in their defence.”