Government orders mining companies to vacate their leases

While the State Government has requested leaseholders to vacate their leases along with their equipment, some companies have petitioned the court challenging the order

In a step towards auction of iron ore mining leases in Goa, the State government has issued notices to 88 mining lessees, to vacate all the machinery and equipment from the leasehold area by June 6th.

The notices were issued after Goa Foundation, an environmental NGO, filed a petition before the Bombay High Court at Goa, saying that the state government was reluctant to take possession of the leases. The petition cited rules requiring tenants to remove their devices from the premises within a month of the end of the rental period.

Most mining tracts in the state, located in the hinterland, were given as concessions to bidders by the Portuguese government during the colonial era, but a series of alleged illegalities, including an alleged `35,000 crore illegal mining scam as well as irregularities in the lease renewal processes, had forced the Supreme Court to crack down on the industry, which has been shut down to a large extent since 2018.

The Director of Mines Vivek HP (IAS) confirmed that the notices are issued to the erstwhile leaseholders and the same are uploaded on the Directorate of Mines and Geology (DMG) official website. He said a time of one month is granted to remove all machinery.

The state government has already put in place, the Goa Mineral Development Corporation under the Chairmanship of Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant, through which the mines would be auctioned.

The urgency of the move is related to the government wanting to auction the leases according to the decisions that the center is firm on. The move appears to be a step towards the e-auction of mining leases.

At a recent meeting in New Delhi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had directed Goa Chief Minister Dr. Pramod Sawant to fast track the mining e-auction process, which will be through the Goa Mineral Development Corporation.

Pointing out that over six months have elapsed after the expiry of the leases, the DMG has asked all the leaseholders, whose leases were quashed by the Supreme Court, to comply with the provisions of Rule 12 (1) (hh) of the Mineral Concessions Rules, 2016 within a period of one month with effect from May 6.

Mines Director Vivek has warned of taking further action as per the MMDR Act and  Rules if the leaseholders fail to
adhere to the notice.

These 88 mining leases came to an end by virtue of the Supreme Court judgment on April 21, 2014, and again on February 7, 2018. The Apex Court in its 2014 order had noted that the leases, which were operating under the presumption of “deemed extension” in the State from 2007 to 2012 considering it to be a second renewal, had been doing so without the necessary permits. The leases had, in fact, expired in 2007.

In the 2018 order, the Supreme Court quashed the second renewals granted to these leases pointing to several irregularities and favouritism while renewing them between November 2014 and January 2015.

A belated attempt by the mining company Vedanta Ltd, who approached the Supreme Court to seek an extension of leases up to 2037 citing a technicality, was rejected by the Supreme Court last year.

The mining industry was a major revenue and employment generator for the state and at its peak, contributed close to 15% of the State’s GDP. Goa used to export 54 million tonnes of iron ore per annum before the ban came into effect in 2012 as a result of the Shah Commission report. While some mining activity continues, the industry is but a pale shadow of what it once was.

Notices have been issued to Sesa Resources Ltd, Vedanta Ltd, Chowgule & Co Ltd, VM Salgaocar & Brothers Pvt Ltd, Kunda Gharse, Salgaocar Mining Industries Pvt Ltd, Sesa Mining Corporation Ltd, Damodar Mangalji, Bandekar Brothers Pvt Ltd, Sociedade De Fomento, Madachem Bhat Pvt Ltd, Rajaram Bandekar Mines, Geetabala Parulekar,
Lithoferro, among others.

In the notice, DMG pointed out that after the quashing of the second renewals in February 2018, the Court had granted six months’ time to all the lessees to carry out the transportation of minerals.

Again, in October 2020, the Court allowed time for the transportation of minerals up to the end of January 2021 for the removal of minerals excavated or mined on or before March 15, 2018 subject to payment of royalties and other charges.

Environmentalist Claude Alvares, who heads the Goa Foundation, an NGO which has been keeping tabs on illegal mining and seeking judicial intervention in sectoral illegalities for nearly two decades, has urged the state government to ensure that the process of e-auctioning by the Corporation should be conducted in a thorough manner, without being influenced by mining companies. He stated that the state’s economy cannot ‘afford another disaster’.

Meanwhile, the All India Trade Union Congress-Goa has urged the State government to pay `15,000 per month to all the mine workers who stand to lose their jobs due to closure of mining activities in the state.

“If the mining workers face termination/retrenchment, the question of their unemployment, livelihood and existence of their families are serious matters which the state government should be concerned about,” AITUC said
in its memorandum presented to Chief Minister, Dr Pramod Sawant.

According to the trade union, a number of mininglease-holding companies have already told workers that their
services would be terminated due to the recent government order. The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC Goa), in its memorandum to chief minister, has sought immediate resumption of mining operations in the state in a scientific and sustainable manner.

The trade union has also appealed to the state government to allocate funds to ensure the payment of `15,000 per month to all the mining workers who stand to lose their jobs.

AITUC said that even though the chief minister had assured that the iron ore mining would be started by state owned
mining corporations soon; there has been no development in the matter till date.

In the event of fresh auctions, AITUC has asked the government to ensure that the new leaseholders allow the existing mining workers to continue with their employment at their last drawn salaries and services.

With the monsoon around the corner, several empty mining pits will be filled with rainwater and rigorous efforts will be required to pump out water. Hence, the trade union has suggested that the existing facilities available with erstwhile mining leaseholders be utilised to avoid any kind of natural calamity or a flood-like situation in villages, it said.

The trade union has also asked the government to come up with a ‘retrenched mining workers’ scheme in line with the Goa Labour Welfare Board Scheme for the benefit of retrenched workers and those who lost their jobs after the 2018 order of the Supreme Court. The trade union has said that state-owned mining corporations should carry out all mining operations, including exports, with the existing pool of skilled and experienced workers and engage other stakeholders such as truckers and barge operators with the available infrastructure to ensure that mining operations pick up quickly, providing the much-needed relief to the families dependent on mining in Goa

Mining Companies move High Court to challenge Govt order to vacate leases

Chowgule & Co Ltd., Sesa Mining Corporation Ltd., and Fomento (Lithoferro) have petitioned the High Court by challenging the order issued by the state government asking mining companies to vacate the 88 mining leases before June 6.
The DMG had said that the Apex Court in 2018, while quashing the second renewals, had granted a period of six months to all lessees to carry out transportation of minerals.

The DMG had made it clear that the Supreme Court in 2020 had granted time up to the end of January 2021 for the removal of minerals excavated/mined on or before March 15, 2018, subject to the payment of royalties and other charges.

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