High-level probe demanded into clearance to mining leases in Goa

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New Delhi, Feb 4 (UNI) Are we destroying the natural beauty and ecology of Goa by reckless mining just to meet China's growing demand for steel? ''Yes'' is the answer for Dr Claude Alvares, the director of Goa Foundation, which is fighting to save the tiny coastal state from environmental destruction.

Goa also recently witnessed a massive popular agitation against the establishment of Special Economic Zones(SEZ) Underlining that all iron ore mined in Goa was going to China which wants to increase its production to 500 million tonnes annually, Dr Alvares made an impassioned plea to the Centre not to destroy the state just to increase the country's exports.

Calling all environmental clearances to iron ore mines in Goa given by the Ministry of Environment and Forests a great farce, he demanded the government set up a high-level probe into the matter.

Dr Alvares has also called for review of the 70-odd cases of mining leases in which clearances were given by the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) wing of Ministry.

Addressing a press conference here, the Goa Foundation director said the experts committee members of the Ministry's EIA wing were not even allowed to visit the sites by the Ministry.

''For clearing a mining lease, these committee just listen to one person-- the lease holder who presents a cooked up data and thereatter no further investigation is carried out and no public hearings are taken into account,'' said Dr Alvares.

He said the Foundation had gone to the Supreme Court in 2004 that some 70 mines in Goa and several other industries were being operated without obtaining environmental clearances, which was a must under the Environment Protection Act.

The apex court then passed an order closing down the mines, but the lease holders approached the Ministry which granted clearances en masse within a short span of two years.

Dr Alvares asserted he had got full proof that the proceedings of public hearing were not taken into account at all by the EIA experts committee, as he had got the minutes of the expert committee meetings on the issues through an application under RTI and those minutes prove his claim.

He also quoted Expert Committee Member Vinay Rauth saying that the Ministry did not provide for their visits to the mining sites for which clearances were sought.

Quoting a TERI Report, he said mining was leading to a massive environmental disaster in Goa. The reckless mining had led to large scale destruction of forests in the ecologically sensitive area of the Western Ghats, degradation of agricultural fields, widespread pollution of water bodies and rivers and sedimentation of the large Mandovi and Zuari estuarine ecosystem, and dust and noise pollution.

He alleged that politicians and authorities in the state were making crores of rupees through this mining scandal, and the Centre was turning a blind eye to the whole nefarious game.

Dr Lavares said TERI had in its report given as back as 1998 recommended that at least Rs seven per tonne of iron ore mined should be levied as a surcharge to fund restoration of the land degraded in mining, but nothing had been done so far.

The Foundation has gone to the National Appellate Authority against the mining leases in Bicholin and Ribona villages. However, it was physically not possible to file petitions in all cases. Even in these two cases, the Foundation had to do a lot of additional petitions to get the main one accepted.

Explaining, he said that under the rules, a petition to the nAA should be filed withing a month of the award of environmental clearance given to a project, but the reality was that the news about these clearances reaches to people very late. The clearances are required to be put on website of the Ministry of Environment and Forests but this website hardly function and generally one is not able to see them on website on time.

He said the process of environmental clearances was speeded by changing rules under which clearances relating to wildlife, forests and pollution were taken out of the EIA ambit making it very easy for miners to obtain the lease.

It was very strange that impact on wildlife, pollution and forests should not be considered in an environment impact assessment exercise, he added.

''Most of the leases were granted during the Portuguese rule, but that was a colonial government. What is strange is that the government did not cancel these leases after the liberation of Goa and was even turning a blind eye to the violations of terms by miners,'' said Dr Alvares.

UNI NAZ YA GC1618

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