Goa mining: Ministry lifts stay on green clearances

Panaji : The union ministry for environment and forests (MoEF) has formally lifted its 2012 order holding all environment clearances (EC) granted to Goa’s iron ore mines in abeyance, clearing the way for resumption of mining in Goa, while also asking the state government to be vigilant against illegal mining.

IANS has access to the order issued on Friday a few days after Minister of State for Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar told the media in the national capital, that his ministry had resolved to lift the three-year-old abeyance order.

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“State government of Goa shall develop and implement a credible mechanism to regularly monitor and ensure that capping of 20 million metric tons on mining leases in State of Goa is implemented as per the directions of the Supreme Court,” the order dated March 20 reads.

The order, while classifying Goa’s mining leases into three sections, indicated that 72 mining leases, were in a position to start mining operations, after obtaining required permissions from state government agencies.

Eighteen other mining leases have been identified as being in proximity to forest areas, therefore requiring new forest clearances, while 22 more mining leases were in eco-sensitive areas and needed permissions from the Supreme Court, which is also hearing a petition in connection with a Rs. 35,000 crore illegal mining scam.

In September, 2012, Jayanthi Natarajan, the then MoEF minister in the United Progressive Alliance government had suspended Environment Clearances granted to 93 operational mining leases at the time.

Her decision had come only days after then chief minister Manohar Parrrikar had already temporarily suspended mining operations following the revelation of a Rs. 35,000 crore illegal mining scam by the Justice M.B. Shah Commission.

Goa`s mining sector has been non-operational for more than two years because of the three successive actions, which include temporary suspension of mining permission by the then Parrikar-state government, a revocation of green clearances by the Natarajan-led MoEF and then a subsequent ban by the Supreme Court following the mammoth illegal mining scam.

While the state government lifted the temporary suspension last year, and the Supreme Court lifted the ban in April 2014, the MoEF decision now clears the last technical hurdle vis a vis resumption of mining.

While lifting the ban however, the apex court had fixed a cap of 20 million metric tons for ore extraction from Goa’s mines. The state had exported nearly 57 million tons of iron ore in the financial year before mining was banned.

The MoEF order has also asked the Goa government to ensure that mining companies do not dump ore outside areas designated in the official mining plans and deal effectively with environment related violations.

Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar told IANS that now it was up to the mining companies to complete the necessary formalities and resume mining operations.

“When mining will actually start depends on how quickly the mining companies get the remaining formalities completed,” Parsekar said.

When asked why the Goa government had been unable to nail the main culprits responsible for the Rs. 35,000 crore illegal scam for over three years since his party was in power Parsekar said: “Law will take its own course”.

The Shah Commission report had indicted a nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and mining magnates, many of whom have been now allowed to get renewed the same leases by the state government, for the mammoth mining scam.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, in Opposition then, in its complaint to the President of India in 2011, had named several Congress politicians as being a part of the scam, but none have been arrested so far.