Goa mining closure: How crisis takes heavy toll on livelihood of dependents

Updated: March 1, 2019 2:47:40 PM

Political class failing to deliver on the tall promises is not a new phenomenon and most of the time the “aam aadmi” tends to not take them seriously.

For about 3,00,000 people in Goa, which is a whopping 25 percent population of Goa, now a speedy justice system is the only hope.

:- By Manoj Kumar

Political class failing to deliver on the tall promises is not a new phenomenon and most of the time the “aam aadmi” tends to not take them seriously. But when it comes to life and death than one cannot afford to ignore even the slightest glimmer of hope from anyone. When that glimmer of hope emanates from the apex court than it is natural that one would be sanguine about a better future.

For about 3,00,000 people in Goa, which is a whopping 25 percent population of Goa, now a speedy justice system is the only hope. In February 2018 the Apex court asked to stop the mining operations of iron ore mines in Goa on a technical review of governmental process of renewals of leases and not due to any wrongdoing or environmental concerns. Unfortunately the consequence, certainly unintended, was that a big chunk of Goan population was left with bleak future with no visibility or glimmer of hope.

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The Portuguese influence on nearly 500 years of Goan history came to an end on 19th December 1961 with the liberation of Goa. The mining concessions were granted when Goa was under the Portuguese rule in terms of colonial mining laws with unlimited tenure of concessions. Due to the change in government regime, there has been a lot of conflict surrounding the applicability of the existing Mines and Mineral (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 (MMDRA) which was sought to be extended to Goa on 1st October 1963 vis-à-vis the earlier Portuguese colonial law.

The conflict was temporarily put to rest by the High Court of Bombay in 1985 by prohibiting the Government of India from treating the concessions granted under the Portuguese law as existing leases under the MMDRA.

As a result, the Government of India enacted the Goa, Daman & Diu Mining Concession (Abolition & Declaration as Mining Leases) popularly known as the “Abolition Act” on May 11, 1987. The Abolition Act in 1987, declared the Portuguese mining concessions as mining leases retrospectively with effect from 20th December 1961 with an intent to collect levies like dead rent and royalty retrospectively from the year 1961 onwards.

However, Bombay High Court in 1997 ruled that the Government can collect royalty and dead rent only prospectively from the date the Abolition Act came into force i.e. 11th May 1987.

Subsequently, the concessionaries and the government both filed appeals before the Supreme Court of India which are pending till date. It is here that the Supreme Court in 1998 permitted the concessionaires to carry on mining in the mining areas for which renewal application have been made on the condition that the concessionaire/lessees paid royalty and dead rent from 11th May 1987 onwards.

Later, the Supreme Court directed that these appeals would need to await the decision of another set of litigation which is the Property Owners Matter which has been referred to a larger constitutional bench and remains pending till date. As a result, the question as to whether the concessions could have been converted into leases remains undecided leading to the legal quagmire mining finds itself in today.

Whilst ruling on a challenge to the second renewals granted to various leases in Goa, the court may not have the implications arising from the pending Abolition Act appeals

Around 3 lakh people are now impacted and running helter skelter for a refuge. These mining dependents have for long now been lured by political promises of early resumption, fast solution and a possible amendment in relevant laws. Goa Legislative Assembly passed a unanimous resolution in August, 2018 supporting resumption of mining through a legislative solution looking at the plight of these 3 lakh dependents on mining who have lost their livelihood since closure of mining operations in March 2018.

However, despite the assurances from political circles in Delhi and Goa, nothing concrete is forthcoming. Various public demonstrations have been held by those in dire straits, in Delhi and Goa. People have knocked on every door possible, but their hopes have been dashed so far.

Now any legal mind will find the situation an exceptional and peculiar one, where a set of pending appeals in Supreme Court have the hopes of mining industry tied in a leash since 1998 and where a three judge bench passed an interim order to allow mining operations to continue during their pendency whilst a two judge bench passes a judgment in Feb 2018 which has a consequence of bringing the mining operations to a halt.

The big question hovering around is whether the latter judgment may have rendered the appeals challenging the Abolition Act infructuous particularly if the concessionaires were to succeed in these Abolition Act appeals the question as to the validity of the process granting the second renewals will be rendered merely academic. Moreover, if the concessionaires were to even partly win in the appeals challenging the Abolition Act, to the extent of its prospective application from 1987, the tenure of the leases would automatically be extended till 2037 under a transitory protection provided by 2015 amendment to MMDRA.

Whilst the legal entanglement is bewildering on one hand, irreplaceable damage is being caused to the mining dependents in Goa on the other due to critical loss of livelihood of masses wholly dependent on mining for sustenance In view of the urgent concerns arising out of the plight of the mining dependent people, several affected persons have approached Supreme Court knocking its doors for delivering justice and protecting their right of life and livelihood which is so deeply enshrined in the Constitution of India.

These stakeholders are asking the Court to urgently pick up and decide these 1998 appeals which is possibly the last strand of hope for the mining dependents for an early resumption of mining in the State.

Hopes of mining dependents were rekindled when the Prime Minister recently interacted with the Goan community and promised an efficacious and expedited legal remedy to bring back mining operations stranded for almost a year. Goans are waiting with bated breath for this promise to be delivered.

Whether it is the bastions of justice or the democratic representatives of people that bring them respite – workmen, loaders, truckers, barge crew, repair men, machinery operators and others dependent of mining for their daily bread are hanging on their last straw of hope for survival. Only time will tell whether and how the two wings of the state rise to the occasion to ameliorate their suffering.

The author is Founder and Managing Partner, Hammurabi and Solomon. The views expressed are author’s own.

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