New Delhi: Claiming that Goa, one of the world’s top scenic party destinations, is being denuded and degraded by the numerous mines sprinkled over the tiny state, the Goa Foundation, one of India’s oldest environmental monitoring groups run by activists and academics, demanded that the Union ministry of environment and forests stop granting further environment clearances for iron ore mines in Goa.
The foundation also demanded a review of the 70 or so environment clearances already granted by the ministry.
“The Supreme Court, in 2004, ordered that 70-odd mines in Goa be closed down due to lack of environmental clearances under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. Instead of using the opportunity to enforce environment regulations and impose conditions on these mining activities, the (ministry) speeded up the clearances as practically all the mines were granted environment clearances en masse within a short span of two years, and all these clearances were issued without a single site inspection,” alleged Claude Alvares, executive secretary and director of the foundation, and a member of the Supreme Court monitoring committee on hazardous wastes.
Also, a 2 January order by the court accepted recommendations made by a court-appointed committee on forestry matters and said that 16 mines in Goa would have to pay compensatory sums, exceeding Rs100 crore, before they would be allowed to resume work on their leases in forest areas.
The committee had found that the costs imposed on the companies for destruction of forests on their leases were undervalued by the ministry to the advantage of the companies. It also found that temporary working permits to work in forest areas had been granted by the ministry in violation of the court’s orders and that the permits be cancelled. In addition, the money collected is to be placed at the disposal of a committee for restoring wilderness areas in the state.
Goa has a total of 355 mining leases, of which 74 are active, including 26 leases in forest area covering an area of 19.66 sq. km. Between 2000 and 2007, export of iron ore from Goa increased from 13 million tonnes to 27 million tonnes.
“Site inspections are done in very few cases in which there are any doubt on distance from wildlife parks or from the coastline, but not usually otherwise. In the past two years, there have been only two site visits to Goa mines,” said a ministry official, who did not wish to be identified. However, the official added that if local activists want a review of the process, they should write to the ministry as the government requires written protests to act, or go to the appellate authority for correction.
Also, in the case of wildlife sanctuaries, the Goa government has recommended that no buffer zone is required to protect the areas (Mollem, Mhadei and Netravali) from the effects of mining even though the ministry has suggested a buffer zone of 10km around ecologically sensitive zones.