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Supreme Court quashes 88 mining leases renewed in Goa

File picture shows the extraction of iron ore at one of the largest mine in Goa belonging to Sesa Goa at Kodli, 60 km from Panaji   | Photo Credit: Atish Pomburfekar

The Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed all 88 mining leases renewed by the BJP government in Goa in 2015 to “benefit private mining leaseholders.”

The 102-page judgment of the apex court noted how these leases were hastily renewed by the State in 2014 with retrospective effect from 2007, just before an amended Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act made auction of leases mandatory for mining notified minerals like iron ore.

The judgment by a Bench led by Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta traced the “rapacious and rampant exploitation” of Goa’s fragile ecology by private mining lease holders, whose sole motive is to make profits, for years.

“The primary beneficiary was, of course, the mining lease holder, a private entity, and the price was paid by the average Goan who had to suffer a polluted environment and witness the damage to the State’s ecology,” the Supreme Court said, summing up Goa's mineral policy.

The judgment narrated the role played by the Goa government in the loot of natural resources. It said the State gave private entrepreneurs mining leases “virtually for a song.”

‘State revenue sacrificed’

“The State sacrificed maximising revenue for no apparent positive reason, virtually surrendering itself to the commercial and profit-making motives of private entrepreneurs and ignoring the interests of Goan society in general,” Justice Lokur, who authored the judgment, for the Bench wrote.

The court found that some private miners owed the State “staggering” sums of up to ₹1,500 crore “towards value of ore extracted in excess of the environmental clearance.”

The State government, the court held, had made no “serious attempts to recover such huge amounts.” The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests also “played ball” by giving environment clearances to 72 of these mining leases, the court observed.

“There was not a single environment related or mining related law or legal requirement that was not violated by one or the other mining lease holder. Quite clearly, the rule of environmental law in Goa had gone with the wind,” the apex court quoted from the Centre’s own Vishwanath Anand Environment Appraisal Committee set up in 2013 to probe mining illegalities.

The court found that even groundwater was not spared by the evils of rampant mining.

The 88 mining leaseholders have now time till March 15 to wrap up their operations. The court ordered the State to grant fresh mining leases strictly as per the provisions of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957. It banned any second renewals of mining leases.

The court said there was no need to grant the fresh mining leases through competitive bidding or auction. “The State of Goa was not under any constitutional obligation to grant fresh mining leases through the process of competitive bidding or auction,” the judgment held.

However, the court insisted that the Environment Ministry grant fresh environmental clearances to each new mining lease in the State.

Meanwhile, the apex court ordered a Special Investigation Team and the team of chartered accountants constituted pursuant to the Goa Grant of Mining Leases Policy in 2014 to submit a report on the illegalities committed so far in the State.

This is the second time the apex court has intervened to stop illegal mining in Goa. In April 2014, in the Goa Foundation case, the court found that rampant mining was going on in the State despite all the iron ore and manganese ore leases having expired way back in November, 2007.

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 10:00:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/supreme-court-cancels-88-mining-leases-in-goa/article22675825.ece

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