Goa mining ban exposes the dark face that rulers are wary of

About one lakh people have reportedly lost their jobs due to cancellation of licenses of 88 iron ore mines by the Supreme Court in February 2018. Representational image: PTI.

On September 19, a day ahead of the GST Council meeting chaired by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was to be held, the security establishment in the state went into a tizzy.

Thousands from Goa Mining People’s Front, which claims to represent people dependent on mining in Goa, were planning to storm the venue of the GST Council meet, demanding early resumption of mining in the state which was suspended by a Supreme Court order. Goa CM Pramod Sawant had to personally plead with them to withdraw their demonstration.

The issue is a sensitive one. About one lakh people have reportedly lost their jobs due to cancellation of licenses of 88 iron ore mines by the Supreme Court in February 2018. In the run-up to the 2022 Goa assembly elections, with the BJP and the RSS badly divided in the state, the issue could flare up so much that the state might face early elections too.

State BJP leaders have been clamouring for legislation by the Centre, to circumvent the Supreme Court clampdown on mining companies and the BJP state government itself had officially requested the Centre to find an early solution to the impasse.

The Centre had constituted a Group of Ministers under Home Minister Amit Shah to go into the complex issue of mining in Goa after SC curbs, and it was supposed to submit its report to the Prime Minister on September 11.

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Union Mines Minister Prahlad Joshi even said that a comprehensive report was ready and reassured the mining lobby that it would favour them. But for some inexplicable reason it was not submitted. Probably, the PMO thought that no matter what the recommendations were, it would become unacceptable to one side or the other, and the government cannot easily curb the apex court’s orders with a legislation which itself might get struck down. So, they did not want the hot-potato to land into Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lap.

Why has the situation come to such a pass? Shreshta Bannerjee, programme manager, environmental governance unit of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), who has done extensive work on Goa mining told The Federal that a deeper study of the SC judgement shows that the SC has not imposed a blanket ban on mining in Goa. “It only said that there could be no automatic renewal of leases and there should be fresh EIAs (Environmental Impact Assessment) after considering all the important factors of the eco-sensitive areas. And on that basis, fresh environmental clearances should be obtained again and leases should be allotted on the basis of a fresh auction. Neither the mining companies nor the Goa government are prepared for this.”

Would the GoM come up with some compromise solution for some new auction and environmental clearances on the basis of some new EIAs, even bogus ones, to satisfy the apex court? The chances are remote, because the biggest stumbling block for such a shortcut is a very detailed 2013 study by eminent ecologist Madhav Gadgil and Sujit Dongre of the Centre for Environment Education (CEE).

After studying 65 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports out of the 79 functioning mines then, they had come up with a well-documented study which showed that most of these were based on fabricated and fraudulent data and even involved serious omissions.

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The EIA notification of 1994 had clearly mentioned that any distortion or submission of misleading data or even deliberate withholding of the data in the EIA would lead to cancellation of the project. This study has now become a major weapon in the hands of the anti-mining activists of Goa, as they are hopeful that even if the government comes up with any short-sighted legislation for the sake of political posturing, they could approach the SC and obtain cancellation of the existing leases individually or even collectively through a fresh PIL.

An updated version of this study was published in Current Science recently and Mandar N Datar, the third scientist from Agarkar Research Institute, who had co-authored this updated version, and who contributed to it as a biodiversity and paleo-biology scientist, told The Federal that their study had so meticulously documented the rare flora and fauna facing destruction in the mining lease areas and that no fresh EIA could overlook these and pave the way for fresh environmental clearances in the same areas. That means the old leases in the old areas are gone for good.

Does it mean the end of iron ore mining in Goa? “No. Mining cannot be stopped,” Madhav Gadgil told The Federal. “Sustainable eco-friendly mining could be carried on in areas other than those eco-sensitive ones, by cooperative groups of local people and mining workers. As local inhabitants, they would be more sensitive to the environmental concerns, not the rapacious corporates. But the political leaders are under the influence of these corporates. That’s why even years after MB Shah Committee estimating Rs 30,000 crore loss to the exchequer due to illegal mining by corporates, not a single paisa has been recovered from them by the government”.

Christopher Fonseca, AITUC leader in Goa, told The Federal that he had given a memorandum to Union Road Minister Nitin Gadkari, who visited Goa as an interlocutor on behalf of the GoM, saying that the government should take over the exiting mining companies and resume responsible mining, abiding by the MoEF norms and SC’s conditions.

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“But it fell on deaf ears as Modi and Amit Shah were friendly with mining barons, and they would not go against their interest. This is the reason for the logjam”, he added.

Political leaders, in nexus with the mining barons, recklessly allowed expansion of mining without any safeguards, and it has now precipitated both an ecological as well as a social crisis and they have solutions for neither, commented another activist who did not wish to be named.

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Highlights of Madhav Gadgil Report on Fraudulent EIAs

The study of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) of 65 mines in Goa came up with following exposures:

  • Even reputed organizations like the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), CSIR laboratories, The Energy Research Institute (TERI), Ernst & Young, Engineers India Limited (EIL), etc. have been involved in presenting fabricated data for preparing the EIAs.
  • For example, the EIA report for the Dandeli 18 MW mini-hydel project in Karnataka prepared by Ernst & Young was found to be based not only on fraudulent data, but also heavily plagiarized from another EIA report prepared for the Tattahalli Augmentation Scheme. After this was widely exposed by the Environmental Support Group, TERI was engaged by the Government of Karnataka to prepare a fresh EIA, which again turned out to be based (in part) on fraudulent data.
  • In another example, the EIA submitted for Umbarshet bauxite mining in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, in 2006 was found to be heavily plagiarized from an EIA report of a Russian aluminium company to mine bauxite in the Komi Republic of Russia, submitted to the European Bank in 2004.
  • The Ministry of Environment of Forest (MoEF) had engaged IL&FS, which later got embroiled in NBFC scam, to prepare sector-wise EIA guidance manuals. But the National Green Tribunal dismissed the EIA of the Cuddalore thermal power plant of IL&FS itself as improper!