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Goa Mining Case Day 7

-Claude Alvares

Seventh day at the Supreme Court of India on the Goa mining case:

The bench remained firm on its approach to the Goa mining case and the issues it has raised. Private mining companies took the stage for most of the day. A last ditch effort by Mukul Rohtagi to persuade the Court to allow the transport and sale of ore piled up at leases, jetties and stockyards was summarily rejected by the bench which indicated it was hearing the matter fully.

SG Mohan Parasaran

SG Mohan Parasaran

Mohan Parasaran, SG, began the morning’s arguments. He first presented to the Court a copy of the agreement signed between MOEF and the Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, in connection with the Regional Environmental Impact Assessment covering the Goa mining industry. A copy of that will shortly be scanned and put up on the Goa Foundation website. The ISM report was to be filed at the end of September, but now the institution has delayed the submission mostly likely to incorporate some of the concerns being expressed by the bench. A whole lot of people are awaiting submission of the final report, which will be in only at the end of October, unless it is delayed further. Parasaran waved an interim report submitted by ISM in April 2012, but said it was not very revealing since it was merely concerned with technical matters.

Parasaran next produced for the court a voluminous report by the Planning Commission on sustainable development in the mineral sector. He did not read any portion of it. A summary will be posted in these columns when we have the time to read it. Such reports are not written by Frederick Forsythe or Arundhati Roy, and often, one has to go through several bouts of dozing before one can complete reading the entire report.

Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - Jharkhand

Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad – Jharkhand

The third document produced by Parasaran was on the ground water and mining and according to him, dealt with Goa and Karnataka. He referred to new guidelines for the ground water extraction in mining areas issued on 15.11.2012. He was fair enough to inform the Court that the spurt in reports was all happening after the mining scenarios of Karnataka and Goa. He concluded by telling the Court: “Now we have all woken up!”

In relation to capping of production of ore from Goa, he sought to convey that a restriction was indeed placed when the EC was being considered after the EIA process. However the bench was not convinced because it said, it was still seeking answers to whether the cap should be on individual mining leases, area or state-wise. At the present moment, the Court said, once you find ore, you can take out all you want. All incentives are in place for that. Capping has to be done for intergenerational equity and to protect the environment. Parasaran agreed that present mining rules are like that. He finished and sat down.

AG, Goa tried to address the Court, but the Court disallowed that. There was a brief lull. K K Venugopal, who was supposed to lead the private brigade, was on his legs in another courtroom. Eventually, Sesa counsel

Mukul Rohatgi Photo courtesy: The Hindu

Mukul Rohatgi
Photo courtesy: The Hindu

 one of the most high priced lawyers in the country, took over and stayed on his legs till 1pm, when he retired for the day. He spoke for 1.5 hours.

He produced a 3 volume defence (dismay, more reading to do). His first assault was on what he called “the fixed stock theory” on natural resources. He said the theory had been debunked. He quoted an English authority to the effect that “fixed stocks” of minerals was a figment of the imagination, since ore reserves kept being revised upward every few years. The Court however interrupted him and told him not to waste his time on that argument. It said Rohtagi was an interested party, and it needed advice from independent experts.

Rise and Fall of Liberalism by Frederick Clairmonte

Rise and Fall of Liberalism by Frederick Clairmonte

Court asked Rohtagi if he had read a book on the Rise and Fall of Liberalism [written by Frederick Clairmonte?]. The book apparently argued that the business lobby was influencing all thinking across the world, including judicial thinking! I can lend you the book for you to read, said Justice Patnaik. He referred to English thinkers (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau), the key people involved with the idea of the social contract. All these thinkers wanted laissez-faire policies, and the social contract was to be the given input. It all depends who is talking and his thinking will develop as per his interests! Court again said it wanted independent advice from experts, it could be ISM, NEERI or ICFRE. Rohtagi only objected vociferously to the CEC, saying it did not have the expertise. The CEC had migrated from its original expertis (forestry) now to mining, according to him. He did not refer to the fact that the Court in the Karnataka judgement went almost wholly by what the CEC had recommended.

So Rohtagi was unable to read his submissions on the demolition (according to him) of the fixed stock theory, so he went on to two other issues of great relevance to Sesa Goa: dumping outside the lease area and dump mining. He said he was also supposed to address the court on the buffer zone, but was desisting from doing so because K K Venugopal, batting for Salgoncar & Bro., would be dealing with that.

According to Rohtagi, the Supreme Court judgement in the Karnataka judgement holding that dumps outside the lease area were illegal was itself wrong since its interpretation flew in the face of statutory provisions. He said that dumps were approved in the EIA, EC and also in the mining plan. He conceded dumps were not shown on the lease plan, but certainly on the mining plan. He proposed a new way of bypassing the statutory recognition that the IBM has no authority to approve any activity beyond the sanctioned lease: he proposed to the Court that we must know that the “mine area is larger than the lease area.” He said one could not mine beyond the lease area, that is, the mining pit must be within the lease. However, the dump could be outside the lease. He referred to mines in which the entire lease was mineralised and the pit covered the entire lease area [probably referring to the Cosme Costa lease, illegally operated by Sesa Goa]. In such cases, the dump had to be outside the lease!

A check on greed in the iron age Photo courtesy: business-standard.com

A check on greed in the iron age
Photo courtesy: business-standard.com

The difficulty as I see it: the Karnataka judgement has become the basis for cancelling all those mining leases in which dumping outside the lease area exceeded 15% if the lease area. In Goa, in fact, encroachments outside the lease have touched 2-4 times the area of the lease itself, that is not 15%, but 200-400%. Rohtagi was therefore seeking to denude the Shah Commission’s report on these encroachments.

As far as the second issue is concerned, dump mining, Rohtagi said once the ore had already been removed and dumped somewhere, one did not require a fresh environment clearance to clear the dump. He said some of the dumps had been created 20 years ago [when there was no need to have environment clearance]. The Court wanted to find out if there weren’t any disputes in relation to the ownership of some of these old dumps. Rohtagi said there were no such conflicts in Goa at all! [Of course he was not present in Goa when Sesa Goa and Fomento recruited more than 300 private security guards to claim sub grade belonging to a third party. Or what about the R.S. Shetye ore grab? But lawyers say what they want.]

The Court responded that it was a policy matter and if the Government decided that dumping mining needed an EC, they had the power to insist on it.

Rohtagi showed the Court pictures of the Sanquelim dump which has been shown by Sesa Goa to every visitor to Goa now for several years. He showed the Court pictures of the Vaghuriem dump without telling them [naturally] that it was in violation of the EC and consent imposed by the Pollution Control Board. When you are with your back to the wall, take the bull by the horns. Even the brazen abuse of the 2003 order of the Bombay High Court restraining companies from raising dumps without explicit permission from the IBM and the Water Resources Dept was turned on its head, claiming the High Court had not prohibited dumping outside the lease area!

Rohtagi then took the court to the MCDR Rules to show that the environment was considered when mining operations were sanctioned. [Despite these regulations, not a single mining lease can show you even a one foot high hill of topsoil which they are to keep aside prior to mining below the surface.] Rohtagi insisted that the system was in place in all respects for environmentally safe mining. The bench noted that all these rules had only been inserted in 2003. However, illegal and environmentally unsustainable mining commenced thereafter.

Rohtagi told the court about the mining bypass project and then disclosed that the bypass would only use trucks that would be five times the capacity of existing trucks. He said present day trucks were too many and caused pollution. When they were replaced by 50 tonne vehicles on the mission byepass road, all problems would be a thing of the past.

Rohtagi concluded by pleading they be permitted to take out the ore laying in stacks on leases, jetties and stockyards. He clearly distinguished this from mining the dumps. He said this material had already been taken out and it was now an environmental hazard. The Court was unwilling to consider his plea. We will allow 50,000 tonnes and they will take 5 million, one of the judges said. In any case, this was not a hearing to vacate any stay, the Court was hearing the petition fully.

K K Venugopal Photo courtesy: The Hindu

K K Venugopal
Photo courtesy: The Hindu

Afternoon, K K Venugopal took over and remained on his feet till the Court adjourned for the day at 4.00 pm.

KKV said he was arguing the case of VM Salgaoncar and Bro. The main objective was to persuade the Court to cancel the rejection that the Forest Advisory Committee had made of 4 Salcaoncar leases that were in the 1 km safety and no-mining zone from the boundary of wildlife sanctuaries. There is a brief history to that which he took time to establish.

Salgaoncar & Bro [together with other lease holders like Prafulla Hede] had approached the Supreme Court with an application in Writ Petition No.460/2004 (another GF petition in the Supreme Court) to direct the Ministry of Environment & Forests to treat Goa as a special case or exemption from the order of the Supreme Court declaring the 1 km zone as a safety zone around all wildlife sanctuaries in the country. The Supreme Court directed the applications to be placed before the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife for its decision. The Standing Committee was divided: the majority allowed the mines to function though they were in the 1 km zone, but restrained them from exceeding the mining pit area. Three non-official members vociferously objected to the proposals. The matter was sent back to the Supreme Court, which seeing the division, referred the matter to the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) appointed under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. The FAC said it was rejecting the proposals. The matters have lain there since then and KKV was essentially to resuscitate them and liberate them from the FAC burial. KKV argued that wildlife matters are not touched by the FCA but the bench insisting that wildlife and forest matters are interconnected. ANS Nadkarni tried to intervene to tell the Court the State Government had submitted its proposals for buffer zones for Goa (1 km) and the MOEF was supposed to notify them, which would make the discussion raised by KKV redundant. But the Court told Nadkarni that the most difficult thing is to get the govt to issue final notifications. The Court then rose. Resume on 3rd, at 10.30 am.

[Text in square brackets sourced to CA]. This is not a press note, but a personal rendition of the hearings to preserve my memory so that we are ready for rejoinder when the time arrives.

Goa Mining Case Day 5

-Claude Alvares

Notes on the fifth day of the Supreme Court’s hearings on the Goa mining case

The entire day was taken by the poorly briefed lawyer appearing for the Goa government, Arvind Datar. He specialises in customs and tax matters, and was reduced to reading from the affidavit, while brief by several people who kept whispering in his years. One of the persons assisting was one Shripal, who apparently is the Vice President of a mining company and who, according to people in the know, actually runs the Department of Mines and Geology.

book

Mr Datar spoke till 3.25 pm when he finally sat down, relieved it was all over. He is a decent bloke, one of the few honest lawyers in the business, but even he was unable to save the day. No AG in court even on the 5th day, even as the Goa government’s case was clearly floundering.

Datar first addressed the court on its query of the previous day, about how it had arrived at the cap of 45 million tonnes given in its draft mining policy. He again admitted the figure was ad-hoc, but the 20 million fresh extraction was based on average of mine extraction from 2001 to the 2004 period, when it was between 18 to 21 million tonnes. so the govt took the average of 20 MT. He could not give any reason for the 25 million from dumps.

However, he informed the court of a new development. He said that the Dhanbad-based Indian School of Mines (ISM), a “deemed university”, had been recruited by the MOEF to do a macro EIA of Goa State and that its report would be ready by the end of September. Though he said he had not seen the report, he appeared to be keen to rely upon it. As if on cue, Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for Vedanta, immediately popped up to sing the virtues of the ISM. He ended his singing of the praises of this institution by saying he was saying all this because he knew the “other side” was going to object to the ISM report. Obviously, the entire mining industry appears to be in the know of what the report is going to say. Probably it is going to also promote the figure of 45 million tonnes. More about the ISM study when it is handed over to us in Court on the 1st of October. Court said we are not interested in the reputation of the “deemed univ” or any of its attributes that you are describing but only in the substance of the report.

Photo courtesy: indologygoa.files

Photo courtesy: indologygoa.files

Back to the mining policy: the Court asked for details of the staff of the mining department. Datar mentioned 300 persons were being recruited. The Court raised the issue of their training, since they would be all new. So they would not really be available to do any monitoring or work till that time.

Court once again referred to the Berlin 2 Guidelines on Mining and Environment and expressed its view that they had to get proper scientists to get rehabilitation work done.

When Datar insisted that all the damage had occurred due to the corruption of the previous govt., the Court stopped him and advised him that they were not impressed with the argument. Government is a permanent institution. Whatever party was in power was of no concern to them. In fact, referring to Justice Shah and CEC, the Court said they were non-political people, so their view was better considered. The Court asked, what are your remedial measures? The Court was only concerned with the limits set down by the Constitution. The environment had to be protected. The economy too had to be protected, people needed work. There was a need to balance.

A board informing the suspension of mining operation outside the Sesa mining at Bicholim in Goa. The Supreme court of India has issued an order halting all mining actvities in the state of Goa on the basis of the Justice M.B. Shah Commission report which estimated a whopping Rs.35,000 crore loss to the state due to illegal mining over the years. Photo courtesy: igep.in

A board informing the suspension of mining operation outside the Sesa mining at Bicholim in Goa. The Supreme court of India has issued an order halting all mining actvities in the state of Goa on the basis of the Justice M.B. Shah Commission report which estimated a whopping Rs.35,000 crore loss to the state due to illegal mining over the years.
Photo courtesy: igep.in

Datar however objected to the miners being labelled as “mafia”, as “vultures”. He said this was an instance of “metaphysical exuberance” not based on facts. He said “things were bad” but now the new government was keen to make a fresh beginning.

Court responded: “Handsome is who handsome does, not handsome looks.” They wanted action on the ground. What had been offered so far were only theoretical.

Justice Kalifulla interjected at this stage to ask about the 3 Rs: reclamation, rehabilitation, restoration. He wanted to know what the Goa govt had done on the 3 Rs. Govt said they were going to recruit NEERI. The discussion was now about how could aquifers and mountains be rehabilitated? At this stage, Ranjit Kumar, senior counsel for the respondents, told the court how in the Aravalli mining case (where he appeared as amicus) entire mountain had been removed by miners. Justice Nijjar interjected at this stage that the mountain were not disappearing, they were being taken from here and could be found in China.

Mine at Colamb Photo courtesy: Save Goa

Mine at Colamb
Photo courtesy: Save Goa

After Datar read out portions of the mining Policy which stated that they are going to rehabilitate the mines and then give the land to poor farmers for agriculture and horticulure and allied activities Justice Kalifulla asked how are you going to rehabiitate these mines ? Its not so simple. We have seen the pictures. There are huge pits. can you rehabilitate them? He asked Datar why they were proposing to give these lands to tribals and poor people for farming. He asked whether it was possible to fill the pits and use them for agriculture. What study have you done for rehabilitation of these pits? Was there any scope for rehabilitation of the mines?

Datar referred to rules in place governing rehabilitation and attempted to read them. Justice Patnaik intervened. He said the ideas were all there, also the statutory rules, but all were given the go-by because of other considerations. Things would only improve if these things were implemented. If government wanted to implement rules, nothing could come in its way. Justice Kalifulla said that ecology was important, and maybe they should close the mines for good if this was the situation and find other ways of finding a living. (At this stage, one of the lawyers for the respondents was heard saying loudly that 80% of the population of Goa was dependent on mining!)

Justice Patnaik: This country is for everyone. It is for tribals, for farmers, for labourers, traders, govt servants, etc. But the country cannot be exploited to enrich a few. We must have inclusive growth. Everything we do must subserve the common good. Referring to the manner in which money power, elections, etc were destroying the rule of law, he told the courtroom in his sternest admonition ever in these proceedings: “This must stop! This must stop! This must stop!” We are here, he said, to uphold the Constitution and Article 21 (Right to Life). Only the rich can afford the best of counsel, he remarked.

Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court of India

 

He admonished the govt for not thinking of people besides miners. He said the govt must protect the rights and interests of all. It must think of the common people, the tribals, etc. He once again asked Datar to address the court on how mining could be combined with the common good. He remarked that the lawyers in the Court were being responsible only to their clients. The Court however could only act to uphold the constitution. He said he was aware of Art 19 and that the Court also had to strike a balance. The Supreme Court, he said, cannot fail the next generation. If Supreme Court fails, what else will remain for them? Justice Patnaik said the petition was not an ordinary litigation anymore, a very serious matter.

Justice Kalifulla: It is difficult to shut our eyes. (The judges referred to the photographs annexed to the petition.) Court said even when the Court introduced sanity, the sanity was soon disturbed. There was a system failure. Everything had collapsed, despite mining policy, despite rules. Justice Kalifulla again said somethings could be reversed, but others could not. Scope for restoration of environment in mining was difficult. Justice Patnaik said we were talking of a cancer, which was terminal and for which there was no remedy. How can we revive ecology?

The Court was concerned that with nothing substantial in place, if mining was allowed to restart without an independent and strong regulator, the past would recur.

Datar made a proposal. He said that till an independent regulator was appointed, the Goa Lokayuktha could be asked to function as one and he could file reports on implementation periodically before the Supreme Court. The Court was not in favour, since it was unnecessarily burdening the Lokayuktha. The issue was this problem must be handled by a permanent system of regulation of which there was not much in evidence. You must have your own regulatory system in place, the Court said. The independent regulator must be a tough guy, not amenable to influence, empowered to shut down mines for any infraction. The problem is whether the Goa govt would allow such a person or accept such a person.

The Court was next addressed on encroachments found by the Justice Shah Commission. Datar produced a table to show that Justice Shah Commission had made several errors which had been found when the Govt carried out a fresh DGPS survey of the boundaries. He said if these errors were admitted, the Shah Commission figure of Rs.35,000 crores loot was bound to be an exaggeration. Court asked Dater: what was the PAC finding? Datar said it was Rs.3500 crores.

The Court was next shown a report from the Central Ground Water Authority which showed that whilst in Delhi and other parts of the country, groundwater was critical or overexploited, the situation as described in 11 talukas of Goa (based on 11 samples) was normal and quite safe. Court found it difficult to accept this when it had on file several reports of ground water depletion and pollution and said much depended on where the samples had been taken.

Datar next took up the Shah Commission report. Court asked him whether the Goa govt was taking action based on the Shah Commission’s findings or on its own findings. Datar indicated the latter. If so, the Court said, it would not have to consider objections to the Shah Commission report. In any case, the Court was not bound by what was said in the Shah Commission report. It had report of the PAC, which was a report of the Legislature and also the CEC report. The Court said it would not listen to individual complaints. If that were allowed, the petition would not be disposed of for six months! Even as far as the petition was concerned, the Court said it was looking at it as a source of information. If you disagreed with the Shah Commission’s findings, the Court asked Datar, why didn’t you challenge the findings yourself? Datar said the Commission of Inquiry could not have functioned without giving the government notice. That is a statutory requirement.

The Court finally advised the Goa govt counsel to put down in a document, its findings on Shah Commission, CEC and the writ petition.

Datar finally told the Court that the State Govt had the right to act, implying that the Supreme Court should leave the matter of implementation to the State Government. Please leave us alone to act by ourselves, he pleaded. We have just come to power.

On the issue of auction of mining leases in the context of the presidential reference in the 2G judgement, Datar told the Court that auction was not contemplated in the Act, the Presidential Reference in fact referred to the MMDR Act as an example of allocating natural sources through route other than auction. He said the scheme for allocating of mining leases was laid down in detailed in the MMDR Act and was in force for several years.

Datar concluded by saying the writ petition filed by Goa Foundation was “premature”. He said he would address the Court on intergenerational equity. Justice Nijjar expressed the view that the Constitution of India was essentially a document infused with principles of intergenerational equity. Justice Patnaik said he had just read an article which said that President Obama was struggling to return America to a welfare state, but we in India were moving towards a laissez faire state.

Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran addressed the Court on behalf of the ministry of mines and MOEF. He began by admitting to some actions that were indefensible. He also supported the position that the Presidential Reference did not mandate auction of natural resources like mineral ore. He commenced explaining the EIA process to the Court, but soon it was time for the Court to rise for the day.

Parasaran will address the Court tomorrow. If he finishes, the miners and intervenors will address the Court on 1 and 3 October. The petitioner may file rejoinder submissions and be heard on 8th October, which will be followed by one week of Court vacations.

Goa Mining Case Day 3

-Claude Alvares

Third day of the Goa mining case in the Supreme Court. Prashant was present, but AG Goa was not found in the Court room the entire day. Hearings were halted at 4 pm, and will be resumed next Tuesday. Court has indicated it will hear the matter till the end and pass judgement. Good news for all.

Goa Foundation Logo

Goa Foundation Logo

First thing the Court did in the morning was to pass an order transferring around 10-12 writ petitions filed by mining companies and lease holders in the Bombay High Court (Panaji bench) against the Justice Shah Commission of Inquiry Report to the present bench to be heard and disposed of with the Goa Foundation petition. The Bombay High Court was directed to produce the record of all the petitions in the Supreme Court in one week.

Advocate appearing for Goa Paryavaran Suraksha Samittee (GPSS) informed the Court his client had filed over one hundred claims against over 100 mining companies for damage done by their individual mines before the NGT. Some of the companies had filed appeals against the NGT order entertaining his petition there, and they were listed in the office report of WP No.435. He therefore asked to be heard during the proceedings as well. Court assented.

The hearings commenced around 11.30 am with ADN Rao explaining the various findings of the CEC report (you can download the main text of the CEC report from www.goafoundation.org). That took the matter till 4 pm. The Court will resume ADN Rao on Tuesday morning before it goes to the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Mines. Goa government will be heard last.

Breach of Sesa Goa mine site at Mulgao Photo Courtesy: Goa Foundation

Breach of Sesa Goa mine site at Mulgao
Photo Courtesy: Goa Foundation

Lawyer for the Ministry of Environment was present in the morning, but disappeared in the afternoon. Court was extremely annoyed. Asked for officers from both ministries to remain present from Tuesday onwards to answer questions. Ministry of Environment is acting like a cat on a hot tin roof, periodically doing the disappearing act.

Court came down heavily on destruction of bureaucracy. It said earlier the bureaucracy provided the steel frame for governance. Now officers were writing notes to favour decisions. The bureaucracy had been shattered and its backbone demolished. It was referring to the questionable decisions taken with the support of bureaucrats who should have advised their masters properly. It found several legal opinions drafted by Advocates General of Goa which actually legitimised illegal decisions or made illegal actions into legal ones.

Encroachment by V.M Salgaocar & I.Ltd of Vasco da Gama in Surla village

Encroachment by V.M Salgaocar & I.Ltd of Vasco da Gama in Surla village

As per the findings of the CEC report, 19 environment clearances were issued for mining in the Netravali wildlife sanctuary despite Supreme Court orders; another 23 were granted environment clearances in the 1 km safety zone from the boundaries of wildlife sanctuaries and another 120 had been given environment clearances in the 10 km zone without reference to the National Board of Wildlife despite the Supreme Court’s order dated 4.12.2006 in an earlier Goa Foundation petition No.460/2004. This may turn out to be a massacre. Goa may never be the same again.

Met Christopher Fonseca and Suhas Naik during lunch. Christopher said this bench would pass a judgement that would put right what had gone wrong in the mining industry in the State.

The judges were extremely concerned about the impact of mining around the wildlife sanctuaries and implementation of the provisions of the Wildlife Act, 1971. They asked for the penal provisions to be read, if persons were found damaging the wildlife habitats.

 Justice Patnaik Photo courtesy: nluo.ac.in

Justice Patnaik
Photo courtesy: nluo.ac.in

Now we rest till Tuesday next, but it is a pleasure to be in this courtroom. The presiding judge, Justice Patnaik, has a great sense of humour and keeps the people quite entertained and relaxed. Bye for now!

Goa Mining Case Day 2

-Claude Alvares

Second day of the mining case continued without break till 4.00 pm. Prashant Bhushan was still on his legs till 3 pm, when he concluded arguments, leaving the stage open for Adv. A.D.N Rao, amicus curiae for the Central Empowered Committee. He held till 4 pm. Matter will resume at 11.00 am tomorrow. If CEC finishes tomorrow, Ministry of Environment and Forests and Ministry of Mines will take time, before handing over to State of Goa. Atmaram Nadkarni was not in Court for the second day running: surprising. This is Goa’s most critical case, but their principal law officer is gone to Sabarimala. Is it because they feel that only propitiating god will save them at this juncture?

Adv. Prashant Bhushan Photo Credit: Yasbant Negi

Adv. Prashant Bhushan
Photo Credit: Yasbant Negi

Bhushan concluded his arguments by insisting that the SC judgements in the 2G scam and the Presidential Reference precluded any further renewals of leases of Goa’s mines. He said the leases had all to be terminated, evaluation of the environmental and social situation should be done by an independent group of persons, who would decide how much time the ore will be in the ground for the benefit of the coming generations. He insisted that at least 3 generations of Goans should have access to the ore, so the extraction should be spread over a minimum of 100 years. All benefits from the sale must go to them and not to a few companies.

The Court was told that it had granted a suspension of mining operations only after the operations had been stayed by both the State and Central Governments. Justice Patnaik wanted to know why then was the Court being blamed for the stay and what indeed was the need of hearing the petition at all at this stage? Mining companies then jumped into the fray to claim they had challenged the orders of the State Government and the Central Government staying the mining operations and challenging the suspension of their environment clearances. Many claimed they had challenged the Shah Commission Report as well. These petitions had been filed in the Bombay High Court at Panaji, and several transfer petitions had been filed to bring them to the Supreme Court.

Mine at Colamb Photo courtesy: Save Goa

Mine at Colamb
Photo courtesy: Save Goa

One proposal that even emerged was that the challenges to the Shah Commission Report, the state government’s order dated 10.9.2012 and the MOEF’s suspension order dated 14.9.2012, together with the Goa Foundation petition on buffer zones (460/2004) should also be brought to the same bench and heard, since they were all interconnected. If this happened, Justice Patnaik said, the Goa government would have to defend its order dated 10.9.2012 ordering temporary suspension, while the MOEF would also have to defend its order suspending all the ECs!

This dismayed the mining industry representatives: if that happened, the hearings might stretch into months, since there were so many petitions, some even challenging the CEC report, the Court would have to spend weeks and weeks on unravelling the mess. The Goa Foundation would have to be given copies of all the petitions and would then seek time to file responses. So instead of the present petition being heard and disposed of in two weeks for the benefit of all (which is what the Goa Foundation itself wanted), the companies have now ensured, without even wanting it, that there will be endless delay and no chance of the suspension of mining being lifted. This appears to be the natural consequence of filing too many petitions and having too many lawyers. I could of course be completely wrong and something else might emerge, so treat this as loud thinking, that’s all.

Of course, the court never decides anything in haste. It has said it will look at all this tomorrow morning when it assembles. What tomorrow brings, only God knows!

Today, significant portions of the PAC report itself were read in the Court by Prashant Bhushan. He also introduced the Court to the Gadgil Panel report, and read a good bit of the August 2013 report of the Standing Committee (Lok Sabha) Coal and Steel, which had recommended a complete ban on all iron exports from the country.

The Goa Foundation also presented a composite table showing how every mining lease in Goa was involved in either on or other violation or illegality, and some were involved in several illegalities.