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Top court says no more work after March 15; fresh auctions, leases have to be made with environment in mind

Decreeing on a writ petition by the Goa Foundation, an environment activist group (filed against Sesa Sterlite Ltd. and Ors), the Supreme Court on Wednesday (February 7) set aside a high court order and said all iron ore mining activity and fishing in Goa should stop byMarch 15 and fresh environment clearances will be required to for new mining leases and fishing.

This effectively annuls all existing mining leases. The court has also asked the government to start fresh auctioning for mining companies in Goa.

Two things are critical in deciding mining leases: illegal mining and effect on the environment. The apex court had stopped mining and transportation in the state in October 2012, following the recommendation of the Justice MB Shah Commission. The commission’s report had said that millions of tonnes of iron ore were being mined illegally going way over licensed limits.

Then, in 2015, the state government renewed 88 mining leases, bowing to high-powered lobbying and many of those leases were given to the same companies that had been accused of illegal mining.

This became a political issue and when the BJP came to power last year it decided to do its own deal. In January this year Goa Police charged former chief minister Digambar Kamat of the Congress with delaying the renewal of a mining lease, purportedly causing a loss to the state exchequer.

In 2014 a SIT had filed a case against Kamat, Prafulla Hede (owner of  the mine at Collem, south Goa) and Mines and Geology department officer AT D’Souza under section 19 of the Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act.

Now this order of the apex court seems to have put a spanner in the political machinations of the two parties.

India Legal Bureau

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