(As appeared on Herald review, Dated: September 16, 2012)
The ‘suits’ are under scrutiny. What has long been suspected is now out in the open. The explosive revelations by the Shah Commission have well and truly undermined the all-powerful mining lobby in Goa. But will there be a day of reckoning for the rich and well connected?
The magnitude of the illegalities in the mining industry exposed by the Shah Commission report has shocked the people of Goa, says MLA Vijai Sardessai. His is just one among the many public voices the government will now be forced to confront as it weighs its options on how to act on Justice M B Shah’s findings and recommendations, without appearing to protect the disgraced mining lobby or let the people down.
The dilemma he’s in today is somewhat ironic in Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s case. The media blitz that followed his Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report leaks preceding the election puts the chief minister clearly in the spot to prove he has the political spine to take on the suave marauders who till a few years ago completely controlled and emasculated the local media, and still continue to snap their fingers at the political class.
Environment activist Ramesh Gauns says “the Shah Commission has unmasked the sophisticated face of lawlessness in Goa.” “And these people are supposed to be classy,” he says disdainfully. A dedicated village school teacher whose measured and dignified manner stands in contrast with the well-connected who have plundered Goa’s red soil for black gold, Gauns is highly skeptical anything will change.
“No one is going to touch these mine owners,” he says. He has reason to be cynical after the years of chipping away at the wall of bureaucratic and political indifference.
He has even more reason to be distrusting of this government after he finds the very coterie of iron ore exporters that has been pulled up for massive illegalities by Justice Shah are back in the business as ‘traders’, some of them with three and four licences each. (See box page 4) Mine owner Haresh Melwani says under The Goa ( Prevention of Illegal Mining, Transportation & Storage of Minerals) Rules 2004, mine owners/ exporters have to also register as traders for the Mines Department to keep track of the ore and for mining majors to buy from smaller operators.
This, says Gauns, is in clear violation of Clause xiii of Form J for renewal of leases. The form specifies the ore extracted is meant purely for “manufacture in India” or “export to foreign country”. It is not for trading, he insists.
Activists like him who’ve been keeping a close watch on the registration of traders suspect a large number of shadowy operators are once again getting back on the list.
Shri Durga Mining Co, address: Subhash Timblo Bhavan, got a trading licence from the Mines Department on 14/ 06/ 2012. Muktar Mineral Pvt Ltd and Vagha Minerals Pvt Ltd who got one each on 03/ 07/ 2012 have both provided the same address: B2, B3 Phase 1 A, Verna Industrial Estate.
None of these “traders” figure on the official list put out by the department on its website.
Gauns says another 20 operators have crept in, but the department is taking its time getting back on his RTI application.
Illegal for 24 years
Some cases in the Shah report stand out for the sheer scale of impudence. Among them is the Chowgule mine spread across Sattari that operated illegally for 24 years with the apparent blessings of the authorities, both here and in Delhi: “The illegalities / irregularities committed by M/ s. Chowgule and Company Private Limited ( T. C. No. 31/ 55), a mining concession over an area of 98.08 Ha in Gavanem, Ambelim, Xel po– Curado Villages of Sattari Taluka requires to be highlighted,” the Commission said.
The concession was declared as mining lease under the MM( DR) Act, 1957 after the enactment of the Goa Abolition Act, 1987.
But “there is no renewal so far for the said mining lease under the MM( DR) Act, 1957 even after lapse of 24 years,” the report highlights, pointing out that the lease continued to operate under a deemed extension for almost a quarter century.
The company’s proposal for diversion of forest land which the State government approved, was also rejected by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest on 28/ 03/ 2000. The ministry said it was Chowgule’s responsibility to restore the damaged 3.9125 Ha of forest at its own cost. The deputy conservator of forest reported to the Commission on 18/ 10/ 2011 that the company had done nothing so far.
The findings also note there were “fresh encroachment in forest land towards the southern side of the freshly delineated lease area”. The Commission said the lessee had got environment clearance from the Centre by falsely claiming it had surrendered 60.6557 Ha of leased area, though no such surrender had taken place.
Out of the 98 Ha of leased area, 79.5 Ha is forest land and 49 Ha of this is in the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. The company was allowed to extract 5,91,347 tonnes of ore illegally over five years, the Commission said, asking that action be initiated against the lessee and government officials.