In his efforts to shield Chief Minister Digambar Kamat from charges of involvement in illegal mining, Goa Speaker Pratapsinh Rane was not only being politically partisan — he was also bending rules and breaking conventions. After declining to table the report on illegal mining prepared by the Public Accounts Committee, which was headed by the Leader of the Opposition Manohar Parrikar, the Speaker reconstituted the PAC. True, the term of the PAC had ended, and the new chairman, Vijay Pai-Khot, is also from the main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party. But in blatant disregard of established legislative procedure, Mr. Rane chose not to consult the BJP leadership on the change. Mr. Parrikar appears to have been kept out solely because of his role in drafting the report, which was a damning indictment of the government. In any case, Mr. Rane ought to have tabled Mr. Parrikar's report in the Assembly, instead of looking for excuses for not doing so — that a majority of the members of the PAC, four of seven, had not signed it, and the report was, therefore, no more than a draft. The PAC, as was to be expected, was divided on party lines, with three members of the ruling Congress and one from the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party disagreeing with the findings. The proper course for the Speaker would have been to table the report in the House, and allow an honest debate on illegal mining in the State. That this was not done gives rise to suspicion that senior leaders in the Congress and in the government have a lot to hide. It lends credence to the allegations of irregularities in renewing mining leases, of non-payment of mining royalties, and of damage to the environment.
The PAC report followed up the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General on revenue loss to the government in iron ore export. The increased demand for iron ore in China made mining extremely lucrative, and illegal mining worth the risk. Indiscriminate mining over the last few years has contributed to the depletion of forest cover. Instead of facing up to these hard facts, the Kamat government launched into a cover-up operation. By all accounts, Chief Minister Kamat, who holds the mining portfolio, does not want an impartial probe into the issue. Under these circumstances, the only option is to have the Central Bureau of Investigation inquire into what the PAC report refers to as a “clear nexus of politicians, bureaucrats in the Mines Department, local police officers and officers from the Forest Department” in illegal mining. The choice before Mr. Kamat is stark: make way for such investigation, or quit.