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?
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.
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.