The top court in 2018 had quashed the second renewal of iron ore mining leases given to as many as 88 companies in Goa in 2015 and directed the Centre and the Goa govt to grant fresh clearances to them.
In a relief to mining firms, the Supreme Court on Tuesday extended time till January 31, 2021 to them to transport “royalty paid” iron ore, mined prior to March 15, 2018 in Goa on grounds such as imposition of lockdown to contain COVID-19 pandemic. The top court, on January 30, had taken note of the legislative policy and its own previous judgement and had directed mining firms to conclude all “such transportation of iron ore within six months deadline of July 30. Some mining firms including Chowgule and Company Pvt Ltd have then moved interim applications seeking extension of time on grounds that there was delay on the part of the statutory authorities in issuing transit permits for the transportation of the royalty paid ore and the imposition of lockdown within two months of the judgment of this court which was delivered on January 30.
“The lessees (mining firms) are granted time up to end of January, 2021 for the removal of the minerals excavated/mined on or before March 15, 2018 subject to payment of royalties and other charges,” said a bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian. In the judgement, it said the quantity of mineral to be removed by each of the mining firm shall be determined by the concerned officials with reference to the records of the Government maintained it at the relevant point of time. The top court, however, made clear that if the firms could not remove the mineral by January 31, next year, then the government shall invoke it’s power under Rule 12(1)(hh) of the Minerals (Other than Atomic and Hydro Carbons Energy Minerals) Concession Rules, 2016 and confiscate the mined ore.
The NGO, ‘Goa Foundation’, which has been fighting mining firms in courts, had also moved the top court seeking reliefs such as that the ore on which royalty had not already been paid, should not be allowed to be removed. Earlier, the top court had set aside the Bombay High Court’s order on the pleas of several mining firms including Chowgule and Company Pvt Ltd.
The high court had quashed the decision taken on March 21, 2018 by the Goa government permitting mining leaseholders to pay royalty on mineral, which was already mined till March 15, 2018 and transport it. Reversing the high court order, the apex court had taken note of its earlier judgement in which “mining leaseholders were given time to manage their affairs and may continue their mining operations till March 15, 2018.”
“We are, therefore, inclined to allow all the appeals. Order accordingly. We set aside the impugned judgment and order dated May 4, 2018 passed by the High Court and uphold the decision of the State of Goa dated March 21, 2018, which permits transportation of mineral/iron ore which is mined prior to March 15, 2018. “Needless to state, that the transportation of the mineral would be only in respect of such minerals on which royalty is paid. The appellants/mining leaseholders would be permitted to transport the royalty paid ore/mineral from the jetties/stockyard or pitheads on the basis of the valid transit permits issued to them by the competent authority of the State Government,” the bench had said.
The top court referred to the history of the case and said that this court, in the first round, had held that all iron ore and manganese ore leases had expired on November 22, 2007 and that any mining operation carried out beyond the said date was illegal. While holding so, this court also pointed out that for a second renewal of the mining lease, an order is required to be passed by the state, said the judgement delivered on Tuesday. The observations regarding second renewal of the mining leases, gave rise to a fresh set of litigations, which culminated in the decision in Goa Foundation vs. Sesa Sterlite Ltd,” it said.
The top court in February 2018 had quashed the second renewal of iron ore mining leases given to as many as 88 companies in Goa in 2015 and directed the Centre and the Goa government to grant fresh environmental clearances to them. The court had, however, said that mining lease holders, who have been granted a second renewal in violation of its previous decision and directions, are granted time to manage their affairs and may continue mining operations till March 15, 2018. “However, they are directed to stop all mining operations with effect from March 16, 2018 until fresh mining leases (not fresh renewals or other renewals) are granted and fresh environmental clearances are granted,” the bench had said.