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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.

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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**