Sustainable mining


The Supreme Court intervention to stop the murky course that mining has taken in the ecologically fragile Goa should help restore at least some balance to the unabated exploitation of iron and manganese ore in the state. The court’s observed in the Goa Foundation case that commercial mining activity can be rapacious in the absence of clearly laid down and strictly enforced rules and regulations. This is exactly what has happened in Goa, with the state government displaying shocking disregard for rules and processes while renewing licences for a second time in 2015. It inexplicably chose not to exercise its right to view the licences as fresh leases that require new environmental impact assessments. In fact, the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports have neither been called for nor the reports of the previous committees given any weightage by the state government. The Bharatiya Janata Party government in Goa invited a cloud of suspicion by hastily launching the renewal of licences just a day after it unveiled a Grant of Mining Leases Policy on November 4, 2014. Quite extraordinarily, it issued 31 orders on a single day, January 12, 2015, apparently to pre-empt the Centre’s Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Ordinance that came into force the same day. It is unfortunate that the state government wanted to clear the licences of all the mining contractors in one go. It is quite clear that some of the mining contractors wanted the state government to do some favour to them and exerted pressure for renewal of licences before the new central policy came into force. Somehow, it is well understood that some of the mining contractors wanted the favours to be doled out at the earliest in return for having helped the BJP candidates in their elections. Now that the Supreme Court has ordered the termination of 88 licences, grant of fresh licences and proper accounting of the losses, mining activity in its entirety should begin on a clean slate. Future decisions should be guided solely by the true cost to the environment and to human health. Already, the dust floating in the air due to unabated mining activity has been affecting the health of the citizens and they have been calling for halt on mining, but the state government did not give any serious thought to the health concerns of the citizens in most parts of Goa. Goa government has been arguing that the mining industry has been crucial for its economy as it earns foreign exchange, provides employment and supports a transport industry. Yet, it is also true that the ore mined in the state is low in iron, reducing its value to the domestic steel industry. Given that mining has a severe destructive impact on the ecology, resumption of large-scale activity should await a scientific audit of how sustainable it is for the state and its economy. Any more mining should also account for the loss of employment while calculating economic gains. Just last year, public protests over contaminated groundwater and polluted air, as in Sattari Taluk, underscored the need for strict environmental controls. It is relevant to point out that the Union Environment Ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee found in 2013 that many of the past leases had been issued without the approval of the National Board for Wildlife, and miners had extracted ore in excess. The requirement for clearance from the Central Ground Water Board was ignored by the state government while granting and renewal of licences. Going forward, the Environment Ministry must display zero tolerance to such violations, reversing its indefensible decision of 2015 to lift its own abeyance order issued against unsustainable mining activities. The Supreme Court’s directions provide Goa with an opportunity: to change course and become a mainstream tourist state. It can regain its position as a top destination for global visitors and broaden employment in services. Tourist charters need to replace its open cast mines and dust bowls, which have not affected the health of the citizens and tourists but also adversely hit the ecology of the tourist areas. It will be in the interest of the citizens and the state that a comprehensive plan is formulated for sustainable mining activity without adversely affecting the citizens and its economy.