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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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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***