The High Court dismisses petitions of four mining companies challenging an Order to clear the mining lease areas
A division bench of the High Court of Bombay at Goa dismissed a batch of petitions filed by former mining leaseholders challenging an order issued by the state government on May 4, 2022 that had directed the petitioners to vacate their leases within one month (by June 6, 2022).
This judgment now paves way for auctioning of mining leases, which the government has been attempting to do for resuming mining activities. The division bench comprising Justice Sandeep Shinde and Justice R N Laddha quashed the petitioner’s prayer to set aside the notices issued under Rule 12 (1)(hh) of the Mineral Concession Rules (MCR).
Advocate General Devidas Pangam said that this order will pave the way for the process of auctioning mining leases and resume mining in the state. “The petitioners (mining lease holders) have no case for further appeal as the Supreme Court has already ruled in Goa Foundation matters that the leases in Goa have expired,” he opined.
Pointing out that over six months have elapsed after the expiry of the leases, the Directorate of Mines and Geology (DMG) had 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, 2022.
The Mines Director had warned of taking further action as per the MMDR Act and Rules if the leaseholders fail to adhere to the notice. The High Court Bench said, “Petitioners have argued that, neither judgment in Goa Foundation-II, nor orders, seeking its review (filed by the state and another mining leasehold) deal or comment or
pronounce on Section 8A of MMDR Act and thus it cannot hinder the High Court in deciding the petition on merits.
“We do not agree with this submission for more than one reason. Paragraph-113 of judgment in GF-II refers to ordinance to amend MMDR Act, promulgated by President on 12th January, 2015. Although the observations therein and in paragraph-121, 124 read with 126 were relating to undue haste with which state granted second renewals to 75 mining leases, out of which 31 mining leases, were renewed on 12.1.2015, a day on which amendment ordinance came into force, clearly shows Amendment Act, 2015 was before the Supreme Court.”
The High Court also said that in fact, paragraph 43 of the judgment records that the Supreme Court had referred to draft Mines and Minerals (Development Regulation) Act, 2014 that was prepared on/or about on November 16, 2014 and also response of Minister of Mines, to unstarred question to be answered in Lok Sabha on December 8, 2014.
Thereafter, the Supreme Court referred to nature of proposed amendment relating to competitive bidding introduced under Section 10-B and, in subsequent paragraphs dealt with, as to how with undue haste the state granted second renewals to mining leaseholders, after the amendments proposed to the MMDR Act, were placed in public domain by the Government of India.
“Therefore, petitioner’s contention those observations in the judgment of GF-II were, ‘descriptive’, in nature, does not impress nor convince us. Now, assuming that the Supreme Court did not specifically dealt with Section 8A of the MMDR Act in GF-II judgment, but could it be said that the Supreme Court, was oblivious of 2015 Amendment and
provisions of Section 8A, when review petitions of the state and special leave petition of M/s. Vedanta were dismissed. The answer is ‘No’, the High Court said.
In the notice, the DMG pointed out that post quashing of the second renewals in February 2018, the Apex Court had granted six months’ time to all the lessees to carry out the transportation of minerals. Again, in October 2020, the Supreme 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.
The High Court observed that, “In consideration of these admitted facts, the contention of the petitioners that judgment in GF-II being the judgment in personam, binds only parties to GF-II and not applicable to the petitioners, is rejected. Even otherwise, finding in the GFI, that maximum period (20 years) of renewal of deemed mining leases in Goa, has expired on 22nd November, 2007; which has been affirmed in GF-II, equally binds these petitioners. For these reasons, we decline to extend benefit of Section 8A of the MMDR Act to these petitioners.”
Director of Goa Foundation Dr Claude Alvares has termed the judgment historic. “This judgment will end the little remaining supremacy of the mining lease holders. This judgment is historic for Goa,” he said. Earlier, in October 2021, Goa Foundation had filed a writ petition against the Goa government demanding such an order be issued in the context of specific directions of the Supreme Court of India. The petitioner succeeded when the government issued the order.
Ponda mining dependents won’t celebrate till Government starts mining officially
Even though the Government published an advertisement for conducting an auction of mining blocks to restart mining in Goa, the mining dependents although happy with the development, are not going to celebrate yet till mining is restarted officially. Mining dependents said that they have been hearing government assurances on leader of Goa Mining People’s Front, when asked for his reaction to the Government’s decision to conduct the auction of mining blocks.
“We will celebrate the day when mining operations will resume officially. We can’t trust government announcements about auctions and restarting mining. For the past 10 years, subsequent governments have been promising to restart mining before elections to garner votes. Nothing happens subsequently,” Gaonkar said.
Another mining-dependent Vinayak (Balaji) Gauns, who is also Sarpanch of Dharbandora Panchayat said, “We will distribute sweets to celebrate the day when mining will really start in Goa. Though the auction is scheduled to happen next month, the entire process to restart mining would take a long time. The government was having a lot of time to start the process in monsoon, but that didn’t happen.”