NEARLY 25 per cent of the population in Goa is in the danger of losing its livelihood. These 300,000 people are connected with the mining industry that is facing extinction following a recent Supreme Court order. The Apex Court in 2018 asked Goa to follow the new MMDR Act and shut all the mining leases.
The amendments to the Mineral and Mining Development Regulation Act (MMDRA) were made in 2015. Essentially, the new MMDRA says that no new extension should be given to mining leases. But it also says that existing leases would be valid for 50 years from the first grant of mining leases.
This came following suspension of mining leases in 2012-14. But since then the Goan iron ore mining industry has complied with all environmental laws. In fact, it is one of the best in complying with environmental laws. The industry was just coming out of the shocker of 2012-14 closures when in February 2018, because of a simple technical reading of the law, the mining industry is again face to face with the darkness of uncertainty.
Since then, mining dependents of Goa are looking for a solution. Assurances continue to keep coming from political class. But the fact is that time is running out for them and they have nowhere else to go. They have done all they could, have gone and knocked all doors they knew of!
- Stoppage of Mining activities will gravely affect the State exchequer
- Goa Permanent Fund (GPF) (10% of sale price)
- Royalty (15% ), District Mineral Fund (DMF) – 4.5% of royalty
- National Mineral Exploration Trust (NMET) – 0.3% of royalty
- Nearly 30% of state revenues from mining (GPF+Royalty+DMF+NMET)
- GPF & DMF are de facto an indirect government Social Expenditure
- GSDP increased to Rs. 372 crore in 2015-16 when mining was resumed after three year closure
- GSDP went up five times to Rs. 1,644 crore in 2016-17
The above numbers shows that with the closure of mining industry in State, the Goans are staring at a very depressing outcome.
- Goa was under Portuguese control and the erstwhile government gave concessionaires – valid till perpetuity
- Goa liberated in 1961 – Concessionaires were brought under the earlier MMDRA on October 1, 1963
- Government of India started levying dead rent and royalty from concessionaires
- Goans challenged the rent and royalty in Bombay High Court
- Bombay HC prohibited Government of India to levy royalty and rent
- Government of India brought in Abolition Act and again started levying rent and royalty retrospectively
- Again the Goans went to court and this time around Courts allowed the levies but NOT retrospectively (1963) but prospectively from 1987
- But the other issue of validity of mining leases for 50 years (till 2037 – starting from 1987) is still pending.
- The erstwhile concessionaries filed an appeal in Supreme Court in May 1998
- Supreme Court also passed an order in civil appeal no. (1413/1998) and connected matters, to await the judgment in the Property Owners Association vs. State of Maharashtra (2013) 7 SCC 522. The matter is since pending.
Anyone, who knows the topography of the region would concur that opportunity of any alternate occupation such as farming or agriculture is limited. Iron ore mining has been the mainstay of the Goan economy and big chunk of the population.
So where is the solution? The political class promised the early resumption of mining in Goa, but nothing has happened for close to a year now. It is not because the executive has not acted to provide the relief, but it is because the solution actually lies with the judiciary and not the legislature.
The list of political promises were made by many including Union ministers, opposition leaders, local politicians et al. But the most important one was on January 20, 2019, by none other than the Prime Minister himself, who said that the Centre would not “lag behind in taking the judicial route” to restart mining operations in Goa—probably the first realistic promise from any lawmaker that the solution actually lies with the judiciary and not the legislator.
The only “hope” now is probably the Supreme Court that may, on compassionate grounds, provide some relief in terms of giving Goans a early hearing in some cases pending for two decades, without even the bench being constituted.
The Prime Minister probably realised that the crux of the whole issue is the Goa, Daman & Diu Mining Concession (abolition & declaration of mining leases) Act (or the “Abolition Act”). The journey of Goa from being a Portuguese colony to becoming a part of India has all the questions, answers and solutions. In fact, the solution lies in the Abolition Act, on which the Supreme Court is yet to constitute a bench since 1998 (See box, Legal Quagmire).
The bench that ordered closure of mining in February 2018 only referred to the amended MMDRA (2015). This case never made any reference to the pending case (since 1998) of Property Owners Association vs. State of Maharashtra (2013) 7 SCC 522.
The new MMDRA calls for no new renewals of mining leases and mandatory auction of all mineral resources. The question of renewal of Goan leases is pending for two decades. The 2018 order probably read the Goa issue without considering any of the legacy issue and finally the closure order was pronounced on February 2018, which tendered the renewals of mines in Goa as invalid.
So, where do the mining dependents of Goa go from here? Obvious answer is: The Apex Court! Goa Mining People’s Front (GMPF)—the apex body representing the 300,000 aggrieved mining dependents has approached the Supreme Court. However, it is to be seen if Supreme Court gives them an early hearing after twenty years.