With mining revival uncertain, Goa must develop other industries in mining belt
Reopening of mines in Goa continues to be uncertain. On Monday Union Mines Minister Pralhad Joshi was cagey and cautious in his response to a question at his press conference in Goa about when mining would resume in the state. He only gave the assurance that a ‘workable solution’ would be found ‘very shortly’ for all mining-related problems. He sought to blame the general elections for delay in finding the solution, but went on to add that the Centre was taking a positive approach to provide a workable solution by studying the complex issues involved in the process. After a meeting with Joshi, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant seemed to be more forthright in his statement. He said the group of ministers headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh which has been formed to find a solution to the mining-related problems would submit its report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon. He expressed the hope that a solution could come by November.
Since the Supreme Court ordered closure of mines in the state on February 7, 2018, an unending series of assurances have been given by the state government for resumption of mining, but none of them had been kept. The last assurance was given by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant who had fixed July 2019 as the date for restarting mining. How the state or central government were to get round the verdict and directives of the Supreme Court was never made clear. The apex court had ordered mining shutdown as the renewal was granted to 88 mining leaseholders without following the directions of the court. The court said mines would remain closed until fresh mining leases (not fresh renewals or other renewals) and fresh environmental clearances were granted by the concerned authorities. Even now, after the statements of the Union Mines Minister, it is not clear how the central government can intervene to help the state restart mining without following the SC directions.
The options before the central and state government to restart mining are limited. One way is to amend the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulations) Act, for which the central government has not shown any enthusiasm, though the state government had been pressing for it. The central government is not sure if an amendment to the MMDR Act will not attract the attention of the Supreme Court and end up being quashed. The legal opinion available with the central government is therefore not in favour of MMDR amendment. The second option is auction of leases, but the state government has to establish a robust system for that. Such a system could take two to three years to be ready. The state government has not shown any initiative in setting up such a system. The third option is formation of a state-owned corporation to take care of mining. However, given the fact that most of government-run corporations have not done well in terms of profits, the state government would be taking a leap in the dark by setting up a mining corporation. Such a corporation would be inevitably led by a politician and run by government officers, both without any technical expertise.
We will have to watch what the decision of the group of ministers headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh finally is. During the past four years, the state government has approached the central government several times but no solution was found. Even an all-party delegation went to Delhi to impress upon the Union ministers that thousands of families dependent on mining were facing misery as the mining had been shut down, but nothing came out. The state government spoke of their plan to move a review petition in the Supreme Court, but it was never done. The statement of Union Mines Minister that many non-captive mines would be closed after March 2020 has added to the uncertainty over revival of mining. How can the central government make a special provision for reopening Goa’s mines under these circumstances?
People unemployed due to mining shutdown cannot live on hope forever. Perhaps time has come for the Goa government to develop other areas of industrial and commercial activity as an alternative to mining to create livelihood opportunities for the jobless.