The Supreme Court today lifted its 18-month-old ban on all mining activities in mineral rich Goa by allowing annual excavation of up to 20 million MT of iron ore.
The apex court, which vacated its October 5, 2012 interim order suspending all mining operations on the basis of the Justice M B Shah recommendations, passed a slew of directions for the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) and Goa government for strictly regulating mining activities in the state till the expert panel, set up by it, submits its final report.
"Until the final report is submitted by the Expert Committee, the state government will, in the interests of sustainable development and inter-generational equity, permit a maximum annual excavation of 20 million MT from the mining leases in Goa other than from dumps," a green-bench headed by Justice A K Patnaik said.
The bench, which held mining by the lessees after November 22, 2007 as "illegal" and "impermissible" the dumping of minerals outside the leased area, said the expert committee will also recommend within six months the manner in which the mining dumps have to be dealt with and within a year come out with the estimation for annual cap on excavation of iron ore.
"The Expert Committee will submit its report within six months from today on how the mining dumps in the state of Goa should be dealt with and will submit its final report within twelve months from today on the cap to be put on the annual excavation of iron ore in Goa," the bench, also comprising justices S S Nijjar and F M I Kalifulla, said.
It categorically said, "There can be no mining activities within one kilometre from the boundaries of National Parks and Sanctuaries in Goa."
Among other directions, the bench said MoEF will issue the notification of eco-sensitive zones around the National Park and Wildlife Sanctuaries of Goa within six months and state government will initiate action against those mining lessees violating the Mineral Concession Rules.
The bench directed the state government to strictly enforce the Goa (Prevention of Illegal Mining, Storage and Transportation of Minerals) Rules, 2013 and it may grant mining leases of iron ore and other ores in accordance with its policy decision and in accordance with MMDR Act.
The apex court, which had allowed the e-auctioning of the excavated iron ore during the pendency of the matter, said the entire sale value of the e-auction of the inventorised ores will be forthwith realised and out of the total sale value, the Director of Mines and Geology, Goa, under the supervision of the Monitoring Committee will make payments of average cost of excavation of iron ores to the mining lessees.
Further, the bench said 50 per cent of the wages and dearness allowance has to be paid to the workers on the muster rolls of the mining leases who have not been paid their wages during the period of suspension of mining operations.
The court said 10 per cent of the e-auction will be appropriated towards the Goan Iron Ore Permanent Fund and the remaining amount will be appropriated by the state government as the owner of the ores.
It directed the state government to frame a comprehensive scheme within six months with regard to the Goan Iron Ore Permanent Fund in consultation with the CEC for sustainable development and intergenerational equity.
While giving its findings and directions, the bench left it to the Goa government to decide as a matter of policy in what manner mining leases are to be granted in future.
However, it made it clear that "the constitutionality or legality of the decision of the state government can be examined by the Court in exercise of its power of judicial review."
Holding that renewal of all the deemed mining leases in Goa had expired on November 22, 2007, the bench said, "The mining lessees will not be entitled to the sale value of the ores sold in e-auction but they will be entitled to the approximate cost (not actual cost) of extraction of ores."