(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
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.
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?
(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.
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:
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.