Panaji, Sep 22 (IANS): After turning a blind eye to nearly a decade of unbridled plunder of mineral resources, destruction of environment by the powerful mining industry, both the Goa and the union governments appear to be in competition to ban mining operations here.
However, the new found love of the Manohar Parrikar-led Goa government and Jayanthi Natarajan's ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) for "banning mines" has not passed muster with the greens here, who claim that beneath all the bluff and bluster, the odds are still in favour the mining companies, nearly every one of which has been nailed in the Rs.35,000 crore scam unearthed by the Justice M B Shah Commission.
A few days after the Shah Commission report was tabled in parliament Sep 7, it was Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar who fired the first salvo, almost sensationally suspending mining operations across the board in the 90-plus operational mining leases, pending verification of documents.
According to green activist Ramesh Gauns, the order is fraught with dubiousness.
"It bans mining operations, but allows export of already extracted ore, whose source is dubious. And at any rate, mining operations are virtually shut down during the monsoons, so the suspension of operations really means nothing. It's pulling wool over people's eyes. If, according to the Shah Commission, all the mining companies are doing illegal mining, then all the ore slated for export could also be illegal," Gauns said.
Within a week, Jayanthi Natarajan, who was in Goa to articulate the Congress' clarifications on the Rs.1.86 lakh crore coal allocation scam, tried to upstage Parrikar's "ban", by issuing a similar suspension order.
While Parrikar had suspended mining operations, Natarajan on September 12 suspended the environment clearances of the 93 operational iron ore mines in Goa.
"The chief minister of Goa has done an utterly meaningless thing by suspending mining leases. I will now take meaningful action, suspend the environment clearances, study them and only after they (mine owners) satisfy the MoEF (will we) allow them to continue their operations," said Natarajan, who was not very committal when it came to spelling out the action in store for the guilty ministry officials who had been hauled up by the Shah Commission for issuing clearances without taking into account the ground realities in Goa's mining belt.
Technically, while the state government's order of suspension-pending-inquiry of mining operations will look into the aspect of illegal extraction and inconsistencies in documentation, Natarajan's order would probe issues related to violation of green provisions in the same mining operations.
"But in truth, the orders overlap. A probe by either one of the agencies would have sufficed because the bulk of the ground work and the data is present in the (Shah Commission) report," said a senior official of the Goa government's mines and geology department.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, Parrikar told reporters that he was thinking of banning mining near the Selaulim reservoir in south Goa - which provides water to over 700,000 residents of the state - because of mining silt slipping into the dam's catchment area.
Greens, however, are demanding that mining near wildlife sanctuaries should be immediately stopped and that the estimated loss of Rs 35,000 crore should be recovered from the mining industry.
"For all the harm they have done to the environment over the years by blatantly mining illegally and lying through their teeth about clearances, the mining companies should be made to pay the Rs 35,000 crore which the scam is worth," noted environmentalist Rajendra Kerkar has demanded.
Shivanand Salgaocar, a leading mine owner whose firm has been indicted for the most number of encroachments in Justice Shah's report and also the head of the Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association (GMOEA), has however claimed that the Commission's findings were flawed.
"We are shocked by the government's order stopping the mining activity all of a sudden. The government could have perhaps allowed the mining operations to continue, while simultaneously examining the documents," Salgaocar said, rejecting demands made by the greens for the recovery of Rs.35,000 from the mining companies.