Notes on the sixth day of the Supreme Court’s hearings on the Goa mining case
SG Mohan Parasaran addressed the Court the entire day and was on his legs at the time the Court arose. The matter will resume on 1st October and 3rd October (Gandhi Jayanti on 2nd October being a holiday.) The hearing may stretch into 8th October and then the Court will go on vacation.
Advocate General, Goa, ANS Nadkarni appeared in Court today. He told me he went to pay his respects to Lord Ayappan every year on the same days, so this year, the Court fixed the Goa mining case on the same days. He was therefore unable to come to the Supreme Court because Lord Ayappan had not granted special leave. Besides, last week, Datar was on his feet and it was therefore not appropriate to dislodge him while he was presenting Goa’s case.
Court wanted to know the scope of the study being carried out by Indian School of Mines. Did the ISM have environmental experience? Did their study involve issues like carrying capacity and inter-generational equity? Till the time of rising, no one from MOEF could produce the order setting up the ISM study. Yesterday they told the Court the study would be ready by end of this month and would be produced next week. Today they said the ISM report would be ready by the end of October [probably so that they could re-write some portions and pretend they were always conscious of these issues!)
From Parasaran’s account it appeared that the Court had indeed been fooled into hearing the petition. Court wanted to know how they had been persuaded to hear the petition in the first place and why it was being blamed for the stay on Goa mining considering the following facts that became clear during the hearing:
a) ISM study, disclosed to the Court at the last minute, would not be ready till the end of October 2013. (Please note that the study would then be copied, made available to petitioner and all respondents and they would all have rights to comment on the report and whether they accept or reject it, since it was not ordered by the Court itself.)
b) Ministry informed the Court it had set up an Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) to review all the 139 environment clearances given for Goa mining
leases. The EAC already had three meetings. (Though the Court requested last week, MOEF did not produce the minutes of the 3 meetings.) Parasaran informed the Court the final meeting of the EAC would take place on October …. After that Dussehra. Then the Ministry would get the report and decide on whether the ECs should be cancelled. To do that, all the lease owners affected would hve to be given a personal hearing. Imagine a personal hearing for nearly 139 ECs! Then the MOEF would take a final decision and place its report before the Supreme Court. [This lengthy process would probably not be completed before December.] After that, petitioner would have a right to agree or challenge the decisions taken. So would the individual mining lease holders. Till all this was done, stay would remain in place. In fact, even if the Supreme Court vacated its stay today, mining could not resume because the review process had first to be completed.
c) The Court was also informed that the buffer zone issue was being finalised. [Apparently, a team of people including the Environment Minister Natarajan is presently in Goa on this issue.] The buffer zone issue has been complicated further because of the Madei Tiger Reserve proposal. If that is accepted, the buffer zone would be 25 km. The report on buffer zones would also take some two weeks for completion, according to Parasaran.
d) The Goa Govt had asked the Indian Road Congress to do the carrying capacity of Goa’s roads in connection with the load of mining trucks permissible. That report was yet to come in…….
The Court therefore said it would have been better if this petition had been put up for hearing in November. At least all these reports would have been in by then. [The Court cannot give a judgement right now without the reports since these are all related to the issues raised in the petition.] Obviously till these issues are resolved, no vacation of stay. In fact, the Court is not hearing any plea for vacation of stay. In fact, Goa govt has been asking for dismissal of the petition, which has been rejected.
Parasaran read out a prepared note. In the note, he told the Court 5 mining leases had been ordered to shut down in August 2012. He told the Court the Goa govt refused to carry out the requests of the MOEF to stop work on leases that were found to be without NBWL clearance. He said he agreed with the CEC that 43 mining leases fell within the wildlife sanctuaries and within 1 km of the wildlife sanctuaries. He listed around 30 leases in whose cases the need for a wildlife clearance was not even stated in the environment clearance. He also listed several cases where NBWL/wildlife clearance had not been obtained despite this being a requirement. He said only 10 mining leases fell outside the 10 km range (but even these could be having other violations).
About the continuing violations he told the Court, referring to the Goa govt: “They are to be blamed, but we too are to be blamed.” He informed the Court that though the MOEF suspended the environment clearances in September 2012, the EAC to examine the cases was set up only six months later, in March 2013! Justice Kalifullah wanted to know whether the terms of reference for the EAC doing the review included the damage these mines were causing to the environment. Parasaran said no. Justice Kalifullah a second time expressed his firm conviction that maybe mining should be shut down forever. Justice Pathak reformulated the proposal to say that there were two economic models: one in which mining was permissible and the other, in which mining was banned.
Parasaran agreed that leases given out by government could be construed to be a largesse and therefore must be in accordance with law.
The bench spent considerable time on the amount of ore that could be extracted from Goa. It wanted to know why Justice Shah had recommended a cap of 12.5 million tonnes. It wanted to know from Parasaran on what grounds the MOEF had granted ECs for extraction of 66 million tonnes annually. The Court examined the provisions of the MMDR Act, and came to the conclusion that the Act had no guidance and no limits and no environmental concerns in respect of the quantity of ore removable from the earth. It was concerned merely with mining. It encouraged mining. It disclosed no concern for exhaustion of resources or that anything should be left for future generations. Chapter V of MCDR, 1988 laid down some environmental dos and donts, but these were after a mining plan was approved. The mining plan was not based on placing any restrictions on the amount of ore that could be removed from the ground.
The Court was told that market demand also played a role. This was not taken kindly to by the bench. It said clearly that meeting market demand and the requirements of environment protection did not go together.