Mumbai: Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar’s return to work after nearly three months in a US hospital has raised hopes of the beleaguered mining sector in the state.

Parrikar, who also holds the mining portfolio, has scheduled a meeting with all stakeholders of the sector on 19 June. They will look at all possible solutions to the ban on mining activities, said an official in the chief minister’s office, requesting anonymity.

Industry stakeholders and a government official Mint spoke with, said Parrikar’s long absence had delayed an early resolution of the issue, but he was the “best interlocutor between the mining sector and the central government".

All iron ore mining activities in Goa came to a halt on 16 March following a Supreme Court (SC) directive. On a petition filed by environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) Goa Foundation, the apex court on 7 February had rejected the renewal of 88 iron ore mining leases issued by the Goa government in 2015. The SC had also asked the lease holders to continue operations till 15 March, but stop all mining operations from the following day until leases with fresh environmental clearances were issued.

After the tourism sector, mining is the largest employer in Goa. The ban, according to industry estimates, has impacted the livelihood of 200,000 people. Raymond Disa, president of the Goa Barge Owners’ Association, said in a phone interview that the “government had started making some efforts now after protests by mining-sector dependants". “Initially, they did nothing. Now, with the dependants exerting pressure, they have started doing something. Parrikar’s return would certainly help," said Disa, who is expected to attend the 19 June meeting.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) heads a coalition government in Goa with regional parties including Maharashtravadi Gomantak Paksha (MGP) and Goa Forward (GF).

Parrikar, who was reportedly diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancers, had left for the US on 8 March. However, he had appointed a three-member advisory committee comprising BJP minister Francis D’souza, MGP minister Sudin Dhavalikar, and GF minister Vijay Sardesai, to run the day-to-day affairs of the state governant.

“But this committee has proved to be an administrative arrangement only and it had no political and constitutional authority to resolve the mining issue," said a senior industry stakeholder, requesting anonymity. “Someone like Parrikar, who carried a lot of political influence with the Modi government" can solve the issue, he added.

An official from the department of mining and geology in Goa admitted that the state has struggled without Parrikar being around for three months. “It is not that he carries some magic wand to solve the problem. But he has credibility and persuasive powers which is what we need right now," the official said requesting anonymity.

Raymond Disa told Mint that “bureaucrats in Goa could not take a clear position before the court and risk taking a decision" in the crucial period from April to May. “If Parrikar was around, business would not have stopped in these crucial months as he would have been able to find some solution. In April, the right approach was to file a review petition in the Supreme Court. Now, since three months have passed and we are staring at the off-season of June-August in terms of mining activity, the right solution is to get the central government to issue an ordinance by which mining could resume," Disa told Mint on the phone.

The BJP, too, has suffered politically in these three months as the allies exerted pressure on it to solve the issue after the mining-sector dependants hit the streets in protest of the ban. In fact, GF leader and minister Vijay Sardesai said last month that it would be difficult for GF to support the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections if the mining ban was not lifted by then. Since the BJP has only 14 members in the 40-member Goa assembly, the coalition depends on the MGP and GF who have three MLAs each.

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