Home >politics >policy >Goa mining: SC issues notice against renewal of mining leases

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notices to the Goa government and several mining lessees in the state after the non-profit Goa Foundation questioned the renewal of 88 iron ore mining leases.

A bench comprising justices J.S. Khehar and R. Banumathi said it would hear the case on 9 December. The Goa government and the miners are required to file their responses by 1 December.

Goa Foundation, through lawyer Prashant Bhushan, told the court that the state’s policy on renewing leases did not conform to the apex court’s line on optimum utilization of natural resources.

Bhushan contended that the state government ought to have auctioned the mining leases instead of renewing them. He pointed out that the mines ordinance approved on 12 January did not conceive of a renewal process. He said all renewals were done before the ordinance came into force, with 31 leases being renewed on 12 January.

The Mines and Minerals Amendment Ordinance was subsequently placed before Parliament and passed on 27 March.

Goa advocate general Atmaram Nadkarni told the court that all the renewals had been done after following due process. He argued that the renewal process had begun much before the change in policy. He said that there had been no renewals before the state government framed its policy on 4 November and none after the ordinance came into effect. Emphasizing the importance of the mining sector in the state, he informed the court that 26% of the state’s revenue was from mining and over 160,000 people were dependent on the sector. “The whole economy gets paralysed (if mining is not resumed)," he added.

“The most important thing to note here is that the court has not ordered any stay, which means that mining and exports of iron ore from Goa will continue," said S. Sridhar, executive director, Goa Mineral Ore Exporters’ Association.

“From my understanding, all the procedures of renewing and other formalities were followed as per court order. But in a way it is good as the court itself has shown inclination to settle the matter for once and for all. No extensions will be given and by 19 December all pending issues regarding the case of mining of iron ore will be settled. This will give good visibility to the Goa mining sector."

Goa Foundation’s petition, a copy of which Mint has reviewed, alleged that the miners and government authorities had colluded to circumvent not just the ordinance, but also the apex court ruling of 21 April 2014.

The renewal was against the court’s precedents laid down for the appropriate and optimum utilisation of natural resources, the petition claimed.

According to the petition, there were 56 leases renewed between 6 and 12 January, shortly before the ordinance was passed.

The petition has named 20 miners whose leases have been renewed. Some of these companies had earlier moved the Bombay high court seeking to direct the Goa government to consider and grant a second renewal of mining leases.

It was on their petition that the Panaji bench of the Bombay high court on 13 August 2014 directed the Goa government to execute second renewal of leases in favour of companies that had paid the required stamp duty.

Last year, the Goa Foundation appealed this decision before the apex court; that case is also being heard in this batch of cases. The appeal said that the order “disembodies the directions" of the apex court.

“The move by Goa Foundation is to simply destroy Goa economy as the petition from them comes almost after a year of an approval from the Supreme Court. At a time when every rule has been duly followed and regulations have been met, there was no need for yet another petition," said Ambar Timblo, managing director, Fomento Resources, Goa’s third biggest iron ore miner.

Promit Mukherjee in Mumbai contributed to this story.

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