The fate of tens of iron ore mines in Goa hang in balance, a year after the Supreme Court banned mining in the state, and no legislative window, except a central ordinance, left before a new government assumes office after the Lok Sabha elections.
Last year, the Supreme Court had cancelled 88 iron ore licences in Goa where these lease holders were told to stop operating by March 16, 2018.
Over the last 12 months, the government had mulled multiple options including amendments in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act (MMDRA) to enable extension of leases to mines.
Besides, appropriate amendments in the Goa, Daman & Diu Mining Concession (Abolitions & Declaration of Mining Leases) Act – Abolition Act, have also been considered.
However, with the Parliament’s last session before the Lok Sabha elections getting over, the feasibility of bringing the necessary amendments in both these legislations appear dim, unless the Centre promulgates an Ordinance.
Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hinted at “judicial solutions” to find a way out of the impasse for Goa’s mining sector where operations remain shut since March 2018.
Modi, who was addressing state BJP workers through video conference, said that he was aware of the mining crisis and its effect on those dependent on the sector.
“The people working in the (state’s) mining sector are worried and it is natural for them to feel this way. We will work out whatever judicial solutions there are for the problem,” PM Modi had said on January 19.
An estimated 300,000 people, including truckers, barge owners, thousands of labourers besides mining companies are directly and indirectly dependent on the mining sector in Goa.
The state government is also learnt to be considering to push for auctions to restarting mining operations. Auction of mines, however, could run into procedural hurdles as most of the land on which the mines are located belong to private landowners.
Also, any amendments in the MMDR Act and extend leases only to resolve the Goa mining crisis could run counter to the Centre’s stated policy of auctioning natural resources.
Goa Mining People’s Front (GMPF), an umbrella organisation representing the affected people, has already approached Supreme Court, “seeking justice and protecting their right of life and livelihood” guaranteed under the Constitution.
The Centre, effectively, has about three weeks to promulgate an ordinance before the Lok Sabha elections for 2019 are notified and the model code of conduct kicks in. The Election Commission is likely to notify the elections by the first week of March.
The matter is stuck in a judicial maze that hinges on the outcome of a 20-year-old case with the Abolition Act. The main point of contention is whether mining concessions granted by the erstwhile Portuguese government can be considered as leases under the Mines and Mineral (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 (MMDRA), which was extended to Goa on October 1, 1963 after its liberation from Portuguese rule.
While Bombay High Court had allowed the government to collect levies retrospectively from 1987, the issue of changing the concessions to leases remain unaddressed.
In 1998 Supreme Court directed that these appeals would need to await the decision of another set of litigation and referred it to a larger bench that remains pending till date.
GMPF has appealed the Court for early adjudication on the 1998 appeals, which it feels is possibly the last strand of hope if the Centre fails to bring an ordinance to amend the MMDRA or the Abolition Act.