ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Mining Violations

The Shah Commission’s report on illegal mining in Goa has a message for all states. 

Commissions come and go with regularity. For the most part, governments ignore their recommendations. Even if they are not rejected outright, implementation is delayed to the point of becoming meaningless. One suspects this could be the fate of the groundbreaking report of the Justice M B Shah Commission on the illegal iron ore mining in Goa that was finally tabled in Parliament on 7 September after a six-month delay. The 400-page report has recorded in impressive detail not just the manner in which the state government, and in particular the department of mines, allowed illegal mining to flourish under its watch, but also the ease with which these mines got environmental clearances. As a result, not only has the state lost Rs 35,000 crore in revenue between 2006 and 2011, but its environment has been grievously, and probably irretrievably, damaged from the operation of mines in ecologically fragile zones.

The commission’s report documents the many ways in which governments break the law. For instance, successive Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress state governments conveniently ignored applications for renewal of leases to the iron ore mines knowing full well that there was a provision that would permit mining to continue indefinitely under a “deemed extension”. In other words, as long as the government did not reject the application for renewal, the mines could continue to function. The Shah Commission has rightly recommended a time limit of one year for such deemed extension as otherwise the idea of limited leases is pointless. However, the Union Ministry of Mines has rejected this recommendation arguing that there would be more avenues for corruption if mines face the threat of having to close down and then restart. Given that the indefinite delay in renewing licences was the real act of corruption, this is a strange response to the commission’s recommendation. Yet it comes as no surprise as it will help let off the hook former Congress chief minister Digambar Kamat, who held the mines portfolio from 2000 to 2012 during which time he switched from the BJP to the Congress. If there is no time limit for renewing licences, then a deemed extension will not be illegal and Kamat can argue he was acting within the law.

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