In the midst of the mining ban and the dissatisfaction that followed, mining companies seek to fire workmen over the failure of the government to resume mining activities in the State
Countless events and protests have taken place in the wake of the Supreme Court’s (SC) order in 2018 that directed mining companies to stop all mining operations in the state of Goa until they gained new leases. Eighty-eight mining lease holders’ second renewals were invalidated by the SC in a verdict in the same year.
By an order dated May 4, 2022, the Directorate of Mines and Geology (DMG) ordered mining leaseholders to quit their respective leases by June 6 at the latest. However, a majority of the leaseholders eventually filed Public Interest Litigation (PIL) writ petitions before the High Court contesting the Directorate of Mines and Geology’s decision. The government had rejected the PIL writ petitions submitted by the mining corporations because they contrasted with the SC’s decisions. Subsequently, private leaseholders have presented a case with the High Court of Bombay in Goa, challenging the State government’s decree ordering them to vacate their leases by June 6 this year.
Goa’s economy heavily relies on four sectors, namely, agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, and mining. Incidentally, the mining industry is one of the most important pillars of Goan economy besides the tourism industry. With a complete ban over mining activities, the financial situation of Goa has significantly worsened over the past few years. It has not only affected large conglomerates but also the workers who were employed by them.
Fear grips nearly 1,500 mining-dependent workers as mining companies have approached the Centre to retrench them following the stoppage of mining operations in the State. According to Vedanta Limited, mining operations have been suspended in Goa for more than four years as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling which was followed by numerous rulings at judicial forums shortening their lease tenure.
In accordance with Section 5B of the Industrial Disputes Act, Sesa Sterlite issued layoff letters to 1,017 employees in its mining division units in Goa in January 2014. Similarly, around 870 employees of Vedanta Sesa Goa, Sesa Resources Ltd, and Sesa Mining Corporation Ltd received retrenchment notices from Vedanta Limited due to the uncertainty surrounding the restart of mining operations in the State.
The notice of retrenchment states, “The company by its application to the Labour Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India, under section 25-N of the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947, proposed to retrench all workmen of the said mining divisions from October 5, 2022.”
In a statement issued by Vedanta Limited, the organization acknowledged that Vedanta Sesa Goa, Sesa Resources Ltd., and Sesa Mining Corporation Ltd. had deliberately kept all of its employees on board and have been supporting them and their families since 2018 notwithstanding the cessation of mining operations. Vedanta had investigated a number of legal and other possibilities over the previous years to resume iron ore mining in Goa, but its efforts had not been successful.
Furthermore, the Directorate of Mines and Geology also sent a notice on May 4 to terminate all mining leases within 30 days, leaving them with no choice but to abandon any plans that they had in order to resume mining operations in the State. As a result, Vedanta Sesa Goa, Sesa Resources Ltd, and Sesa Mining Corporation Ltd are required to cease all mining-related operations and submit layoff requests for 870 of their employees who are employed at various mining units around Goa.
Puti Gaonkar, President of the United Mines Workers Association, claimed that the company gave justifications for the layoffs. Since the State Government took over their mining leases, they no longer owned any mines and are no longer mining lease holders. Thus, the companies are unable to hire workers in the present.
He claims that the corporation has also made it clear that the government’s decision to raise the export duty from 30% to 50% made it impractical to export the ore located within the State. Gaonkar said that the government had failed to restart mining activities and requested that it take an action to do so within a month, either through auctions or by turning over mining leases to the current leaseholders in an effort to protect the workers.
The employees of Vedanta Ltd have met Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, in a bid to seek assistance for the same. Nilesh Karbotkar, the Head of the Sesa Vedanta Workers Union, has asked the Chief Minister to step in to defend the rights of the workers. He demanded that the government should guarantee protection to the workers when the mining corporation is established and their interests be served. Moreover, their petitions insisted that the Government should impose requirements on bidders to hire these personnel in mining enterprises in the event of an auction.
At the start of the legislative monsoon assembly, the government was urged by the legislators to take an action in order to provide job security for those workers whose livelihoods depended on the industry. Mormugoa MLA Sankalp Amonkar said, “The government has to take a firm decision to restart mining, which has been stopped for the past ten years and was once a backbone of the state’s economy.”
The legislators also urged that the government set a requirement that 100% of the current employees be absorbed at the time of the auction. BJP’s Chandrakant Shetye and Congress MLA Michael Lobo introduced a motion to draw notice to Vedanta’s layoffs. Nearly 1,200 employees, they claimed, have received the warning with only 14 days’ pay. They claimed that nearly 4,000 – 5,000 workers would be retrenched in the upcoming days.
The Directorate of Mines and Geology has established a Special Auction unit to speed the process of auctioning off iron ore mining leases in the State. According to Sawant, the government plans to finish the first round of auctions within the next three to four months and “see that preference is given to Goa’s mining workforce when new leaseholders start operations.”
Additionally, Sawant has promised that the government will look into all the options available for giving the current staff preference in employment on the leases that are auctioned. When mining in the State resumes, Sawant promised to negotiate a relief package for the laid-off workers and secure their employment.
Since the orders of the government are not set in stone yet, it remains to be seen whether the government manages to effectively implement its plans and come to the aid of the mining corporations as well as the workers.