Goa mining ban crisis
As Goa sees record unemployment rates, the need to urgently restart the economically significant mining industry of the state grows
Apathy at various levels has prolonged hardships to over 3,00,000 people, whose income and savings have dwindled with mining activities coming to a grinding halt in the State for nearly 3 years now. As mining is a major activity in Goa, the state economy has been severely hit due to the failure of both State and Central Government to resume mining. The difficult economic situation of this small state has been further aggravated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A small tweaking in law through an ordinance could revive the Goan economy where 20 per cent of the 15 lakh population depended on mining for jobs and livelihood. The state also earned huge foreign exchange from mining and tourism. Iron ore mining has come to a grinding halt after the Apex Court quashed second renewals granted to iron ore leases in February 2018. Goa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and mining apart from being labour-intensive also provided maximum jobs to the local population.
A petition filed by Panchayats seeking resumption of mining activities in the State of Goa is to come up in Apex Court in early December.
The State has also filed review petitions in November 2019 seeking review of the Judgement of the Supreme Court, which cancelled the Second Renewal of Mining Leases in the State.
The Government had contended before the court that the State of Goa has not got the benefit of Second Renewal as was granted to other mining lease's in the country. A broad consensus is emerging that the centre could bring an ordinance to amend Goa, Daman and Diu Abolition Act 1987, which pertain specifically to Goa and hence will not have a bearing to mining in other states as well.
The Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has repeatedly taken up the issue with the centre for lifting the mining ban through an ordinance for starting economic activities in the state post lockdown. Various national leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been sympathetic to the issue but so far no action has been forthcoming. Restarting of mining is important and there are fears this could become an issue in the next assembly elections in a couple of years where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has a huge stake because political parties win or lose elections with wafer-thin margin in the state.
In fact, Goa's BJP strongman Late Manohar Parrikar had taken up this issue very forcefully but unfortunately, his failing health and subsequent death coupled with Covid lockdown have delayed a decision on the issue, which is proving to be very costly for the state economy.
Union Home Minister, Amit Shah has already directed the Mines Ministry to study the mining issue in detail and come out with an early resolution. Joshi too had indicated that though the issue is complex, the Union Government could come out with a positive solution soon. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on the Goa mining resumption had recently said, "I know there was a group of ministers which has met the CM of Goa who had participated in it. The GoM has made progress and they have a keen interest in restoring something on Goa."
As early as April this year, Chief Minister Sawant wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking an amendment to the Goa Daman and Diu (Abolition of Concession and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act, 1987 law that will allow mining operations in the state to continue till 2037. The Government had contended this before the court as well. Mining Resumption would also provide a boost of USD 800 million to the foreign exchange reserves and the industry contributed nearly Rs 200 crore towards district mineral fund and about Rs 400 crore to Goa Iron Ore Permanent Fund.
Restarting of mining will ensure at least 68,000 direct jobs and about 2.3 lakh indirect jobs to locals in the state at a time when 1.2 lakh Goans are looking for jobs as per state employment exchange data.
As per CMIE data, Goa has the highest unemployment rate of 34.5 per cent in the country.
The writer is Former Economics Editor, PTI.Views expressed are personal.