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No More Sitting on the Fence

(As Appeared on Herald Review, Goa dated: September 16, 2012 )

Either we are on the side of the Shah Commission and its findings or we are against it, writes OSCAR REBELLO

Oscar Rebello
Photo Courtesy: Herald

There is something rotten with the State of Goa. The gale storm of the Shah Commission report that has struck the State has exposed the depths of the tragedy we’re mired in. The report could help us clean up our act, but if we don’t, the extent of the illegalities might just bury us under mining dumps and pits forever.

This is a make or break situation for Goa, without question. Either we are on the side of the Shah Commission and its findings or we are against it. There’s no more sitting on the fence for us as citizens and residents of this State.

In glitzy ballrooms as the chandelier lights brighten, the masks and kids gloves are well and truly off. All the criminals who have gouged our land for immense profit, ruthless power and politi cal puppetry stand truly exposed ( even if still brazen and defiant).

Let’s get some facts clear:

• The Shah Commission has indicted politicians, bureaucrats and most importantly, the irresponsible mining industry.

• The political slanging match between the local Congress and the BJP– both chest thumping and getting suitably “ red” with rage– is at best a farce. The Rs. 35,000 crore loot may never be recovered and put back in the state coffers to rehabilitate common folk dependent on mining.

• The accountability for the decimation of Goa may eventually be lost in lumbering litigations and deafening debates is also perhaps on the agenda.

Yet after it all, why should these ‘ barons’ of the mining industry come out smelling of roses and all lily white, sipping champagne and watching a lazy football game, some Saturday afternoon? The answer is like the proverbial elephant in the room. The mining lobby has cleverly and assiduously made an industry of actually running a parallel Government in Goa since the liberation.

In the hinterland, they’ve hacked the earth rapaciously, but have still managed to render many of those living in the heartland– wheezing and coughing with the mining pollution– totally subservient to them economically, physically and psychologically.

On the coast, in a far more subtle manner, we have all fallen prey to their benevolent benefactor image, hook, line and sinker. Schools and colleges; art exhibitions and football teams. They have infiltrated ( perhaps on occasion with altruistic motives) every social, cultural, religious and sporting sphere of our lives. They’ve funded everything from churches to temples, art exhibitions to literary events, hospital admissions to school socials, from fashion shows to musical soirees– all the while stripping our land naked.

Courtesy: Herald

How on earth (or whatever is left of it in Goa) can we, the willing and unwilling beneficiaries of all this largesse, bite the hand that often feeds us? The challenge therefore before us, as a people or as so- called lovers of Goa, is this: Let the politicians, the activists, the media and the courts do their jobs as best they can and pray that all the criminals get their just desserts.

The mining lobby has cleverly and assiduously made an industry of actually running a parallel Government in our lives since Goa’s liberation.

But we, the public, however, need to continuously, relentlessly and mercilessly confront our mining friends and tell them that they were criminally and morally wrong and they must play their role to set the canvas right again ( in case they don’t see the back of a jail cell that is).

This they can do:

• By pumping in their countless crores of rupees into alternative economic activity in the hinterland.

• By rehabilitating all the hun dreds of truckers, barge owners and ordinary workers and foot the damn bill.

• By working on a plan to heal the land where most damage has been inflicted by mining.

• By asking themselves truthfully if this is the Goa that we must bequeath to our children.

As far as the political class goes, there’s only one question to answer: “Does Goa belong to the people or only to the privileged few who cajole and mollycoddle them?” Despite all the crocodile tears shed by the barons for the poor, displaced workers, has anyone given a thought to what happens to them when the ore runs out in the next five or seven years?

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WILL THEY GET AWAY?

(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?

Saterllite Image: Lessee: Firm V.M. Salgaocar & I. Ltd., of Vasco da Gama. Village: SURLA Taluka: BICHOLIM

DEVIKA SEQUEIRA

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.

Ramesh Gauns
Photo Courtesy: downtoearth.org

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.

Box 4

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.

The Goa Foundation calls upon the Union Minister (Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India), for the urgent suspension of mining leases in the State of Goa

On the 11th of September 2012, the Goa Foundation & other NGOs & Citizens of Goa met the Goa State Pollution Control Board and submitted a memorandum requesting for the closure of mining activities in the State of Goa, following which today, on the 12th of September 2012, they (the Goa Foundation & other NGOs & Citizens of Goa) have written a letter to Smt. Jayanti Nataranjan, Hon’ble Minister for Environment & Forests, Government of India requesting for the “Urgent suspension of Environment Clearances for mining leases in Goa” which read as follows:

Smt. Jayanti Nataranjan, Hon’ble Minister for Environment & Forests, Government of India.
Photo courtesy: PIB of India / PIB

We are submitting this memorandum to you in connection with the reports and findings of the Justice Shah Commission of Inquiry into illegal mining in Goa.

The State of Goa by an order dated 10th September, 2012, has “temporarily suspended” work on all working mining leases in the state of Goa.  This has been explicitly done in order to enable the state government to decide if and when it wishes to resume mining after mining lease owners produce the necessary papers.

We have deep apprehension that this may lead to resumption of work on these mining leases without the consent of the Ministry of Environment & Forests.

You have yourself written to the Chief Minister of Goa on February 8, 2012 that a “default ESZ of 10 kms width all around the National Parks and Sanctuaries of the State ” will be applicable  till a proper ESZ based on the proposals emanating from the State is notified.  By earlier letters, your ministry has written to the state government to ensure that no mining activities take place without National Board of Wildlife approval.

In order to ensure that the Supreme Court’s orders are respected and implemented, it is imperative that the Ministry of Environment and Forests take immediate steps to suspend all Environment Clearances granted to the mining companies in the State of Goa.  This will automatically ensure that mining activities will not resume unless and until it has express approval of the Ministry (in this case including wildlife clearance before mining is allowed to resume).

We reiterate that the leases are operating on the basis of Environment Clearances granted by your Ministry and therefore only the Ministry can decide whether the mining leases can resume mining or not.

In any event the Shah Commission of Inquiry has come to a finding that all the mining leases in Goa suffer from serious and incurable legal infirmities.  The Commission has opined that most of these leases had been renewed in 1987 without authority of law or in explicit violation of specific provisions of the MMDR Act 1957 and the MCR Rules 1960.

One of the issues that environmental NGOs like Goa Foundation has been agitating is that the Ministry of Environment had issues several Environment Clearances without examining the validity of the lease or the locus standi of the lease holders.  In view of those findings of the Shah Commission, most of those leases would not be able to procure environment clearance any longer since the Shah Commission has already established that they do not have valid leases in any case. This aspect too will have to be considered by your Ministry if and when it decides to revoke any suspension of its environment clearance.

We would like to remind you that the Environment Ministry itself has been indicted by the Shah Commission Report for not taking adequate action to implement the Orders of the Supreme Court dated 4.12.2006 in Writ Petition No. 460/2004 and the order dated 4.8.2006 in the Godavarman case where directions were issued to prohibit all activities in the “safety zone” of 1 km from the boundaries of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.

In view of the above facts, we are making this written representation for immediate suspension of all environmental clearances issued by the ministry for mining leases to operate mines in the State of Goa.

**END**

Goa Foundation, other NGO’s & Citizens of Goa submitted a memorandum to Goa State Pollution Control Board

CNN IBN News Screenshot (Sept 10, 2012)

The Justice Shah Commission report on illegal mining is probably the best thing that could have happen to curb and punish all those involved in illegal mining. The blame game and pointing of fingers has already began among the political class. Meanwhile the Goa Foundation lead by Claude Alvares, other NGO’s & Citizens of Goa have submitted the following memorandum to the Chairman of Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB)

***Memorandum***

The mining operations in the State of Goa are covered under Section 25 of the Water Act, 1974 and Section 21 of the Air Act, 1981.  Without prior consent under these Acts from the Pollution Control Board, mining operations cannot be conducted on any mining lease.

It has come to the knowledge of these complainants that all over Goa on various leases preparatory work is being conducted with a view to opening the mines for full scale operations in the month of October.

All consents issued to mining lease owners under the Air and Water Acts have expired on the 31st of July 2012.  Any work or operations connected with mining which are underway on any mining lease without any consent from the Board are therefore guilty of illegal mining under the Air and Water Acts. The Board has no option but to issue stop work orders and commence the process of initiation of prosecution for operating without the necessary consent.

In the meanwhile on 10th September, 2012, the Goa Government has issued an order for temporary suspension of all mining operations in the State of Goa as of 11th September, 2012.  A copy of the Order is annexed to this representation.

As can be seen from the perusal of the Order which is in the nature of a Stop Work Order, all mines stand closed as of 11th September, 2012. The Collector of South Goa has also this morning issued an Order banning mining operations and transportation in entire South Goa district with immediate effect from 11th September, 2012. However, Collector of North Goa is yet to issue an Order.

Claude Alvares and Ramesh Gauns briefing the media

All the affected mining companies/lease owners have filed the necessary applications for renewal of consent and these are pending decision by the Board. In view of the Order dated 10th September, 2012, all these applications are bound to be summarily rejected and cannot be kept pending. This is therefore our firm demand that the Board will take immediate steps to ensure total rejection of all pending renewals within the next 24 hours.

We wish to draw to your attention that there is already PIL Writ Petition No. 11 of 2011 pending against the Board in the Bombay High Court which is precisely on the issue of the Board illegally permitting mining operations without consent of the Board. The Court has already passed Order dated 20th July, 2011, by which 19 mines were ordered to close as they did not have necessary consent.

We also wish to draw to your attention that Justice Shah Commission of Enquiry into illegal mining in the State of Goa has been submitted to the Ministry of Mines in March, 2012. The Report has been accepted by the Government of India by communication dated 7th September, 2012, addressed to the Government of Goa. In the said report two major issues of importance are drawn to your attention.

  1. The Shah Commission has come to the finding that “all modes of illegal mining, as stated in the above Notification (setting up the Shah Commission) are being committed in the State of Goa.”

The Commission has come to a finding that majority of the mining leases have been illegally renewed, large number of mining leases have been renewed in violation of the Forest Conservation Act, the renewal applications of 42 mining leases have been illegally condoned, that there has been gross abuse of Rule 24 A and several sections which pertain to Rule 24 A etc. A copy of the Shah Commission report is hereby handed over to you on a CD which the Board may consider.  The Shah Commission has also come to the conclusion that practically all mining leases have been operating in violation of Supreme Court Order dated 4.8.2006 and 4.12.2006.  In other words the Commission has established that consents granted to these mining leases in the recent past are in violation of the above two orders.

  1. The Commission has indicted the Chairman and Member Secretary, Board officials and other responsible officials of the Goa State Pollution Control Board on several grounds of being in collusion with the mining companies, favouring some mining lessees against the others, permitting mining leases to operate for a period extending upto six years.  The Commission has observed that it is only pursuant to the enquiry conducted by the Commission that the Board has taken action after gross delay.  In connection with the delayed action of the Board the Commission has recommended prosecution of the officials concerned.

Ramesh Gauns speaking to the media

We therefore demand that till the Board is satisfied that all the required statutory approvals are presented to it and that all the Supreme Court Orders are followed, no Consent shall be issued by the Board for mining operations in the State of Goa.

 In conclusion we therefore demand:

  1. The Board to reject all the mining renewal applications filed by mining companies within time bound period of 24 hours since the closure notice has also been issued by the Goa Government and the Collector, South Goa.
  1. The Board will write to the Government to find out which mining companies have conducted activities linked to mining on their leases between 1st August, 2012 till today and launch appropriate criminal proceedings against the lease owners concerned.
  1. The Board shall not grant any consent for any mining operation till such time that the Board is satisfied about the validity of the lease with permissions granted and compliance with the Orders of the Supreme Court dated 4.8.2006 and 4.12.2006.

***End***