Prakash Kamat

Report seeks review and phasing out of mining in eco-sensitive areas

Review sought in the context of long-term damage to the environment

Industry fears that the recommendations could strengthen the tirade against mining

PANAJI: Goa’s iron ore mining industry is agitated over the recommendations of the Goa Task Force in the final draft of the Goa Regional Plan 2021 (GRP 2021), a State land use plan. The task force has recommended phasing out of the mining activities in different eco-sensitive areas of the State.

The report, submitted by the task force to Chief Minister Digambar Kamat last week, has sought a review of the mining industry “in the context of long-term environmental damage being caused, with comparatively limited economic benefit to the State.”

Facing a fall in prices in the international market and fears of a consequent decline in this year’s annual iron ore exports in the wake of the poor demand from China persists, the industry is apprehensive that the recommendations of the task force could strengthen the tirade being carried on by environmental groups and others against mining.

The industry, which mobilises Rs. 5,000 crore in foreign exchange annually through exports of 39 million tonnes of iron ore, including those procured locally and from across the border, is planning to respond to the recommendations of the task force in its draft GRP 2021, which is soon to be thrown open for public response.

S. Sridhar, chief executive officer of the Goa Mineral Ore Exporters’ Association, told The Hindu here on Tuesday, “The report in its present form would sound the death-knell of the industry.”

He said a meeting of the representatives of the mining industry would soon be convened to discuss and deliberate on the GRP 2021 recommendations so that a suitable response is filed with the Government.

Apart from the revenues to the State exchequer, the industry claims to employ over 7,000 people while several other industries such as barge operators, repairs services, transportation sector, etc., relying on it meant indirect employment to an equally substantial number of people.

The task force, headed by the Chief Minister, and comprising experts on architecture and town planning, including Charles Correa and Edgar Rebeiro, has made out a case for decongesting the highly developed coastal belt of the State and instead recommended economic development of the hinterland.

What has upset the mining industry of the State in the private sector is the policy sought to be laid down by the GRP 2021 that no mining be permitted in the ECO-I area, an area considered ecologically sensitive where no development has been recommended.

The plan has suggested “safeguarding of stretches of natural landscape through a mechanism.” The GPR 2021, therefore, proposes the creation of a special category called heritage landscapes which will be protected by law.

The report has said no mining will be permitted in the vicinity of irrigation /water supply projects, and within 1 km safety zone around national parks and wild life sanctuaries.

Phase-out

Apart from recommending ways to regulate mining and regeneration of vegetation in abandoned mines, the report recommends that all mines operating within 1 km buffer area around major irrigation projects will have to be phased out in three years.

Mr. Sridhar says that though Goa has 400 mining leases, only 110 of them are operated at any given time, a fact which was brought to the notice of the task force.

The industry is also concerned over the suggestion of a new national highway alignment recommended by the task force to be taken from the hinterland which would predominantly pass through the mining areas.

The report has observed, “the new alignment presents an unprecedented opportunity for the Government to take a holistic view of the problem and heal the damage done to the communities living in these areas. The highway could be used to bring new economic activity, increase the people’s income and make available to them health and educational services.”

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