New scam hits A Raja; this time its a mining bomb from Goa

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A Raja
Panaji, Sept 23: With former Telecom Minister A Raja caught between the crossfires of the 2G spectrum scam making it one of the biggest telecom scams in the Indian history, there is fresh trouble brewing for him. It has been reported that he gave environmental clearances for 169 mines in Goa during his tenure as Union Environment Minister.

Citing discrepancies in the allotment of licenses, the documents accessed by a newspaper claim that the licenses were awarded to private companies between May 2004 and May 2009 by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). The move let companies extract close to about 60 million tonne of iron ore annually.

The impact of the license has caused harm to the environment with reports that the environment impact assessment (EIA) studies following the granting of clearances have been largely inaccurate. The situation was different from the ground reality.

In a statement made by Sunita Narain, director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi who has extensively studied the illegal mining activities in Goa and its impact on the environment, said, "Raja's tenure as environment minister was the beginning of the phase of growth of mineral exploitation and of new projects. But it"s also the biggest shame on India's environment history because of bad processes and corruption."

The companies have failed to submit information on biodiversity and the distance of water bodies from mines and other wildlife sanctuaries. A report released by the CSE on Thursday stated that as many as 35 environmental clearances were given to companies during the period between 2007 and 2011.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Goa assembly is looking into environmental violation following the illegal mining activities in the state. Claude Alvares, heading the anti-mining campaign with the non-governmental organisation, Goa Foundation has been quoted as saying, "Raja"s tenure coincided with the Chinese boom in 2005 (when that country started buying even low-grade ore with iron content as low as 52%). Under Raja, an environmental clearance became the easiest document to get."

Three mines were given clearance during Raja's tenure that was only 200 metres of the Salaulim reservoir that supplies water to nearly half of Goa"s population. There has also been reports of granting licenses to 17 mines in the period between 2007-2008 within the Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary area in Sanguem taluka. This was in direct violation of the Supreme Court order in 2000 that barred no mines should be allowed to operate inside wildlife sanctuaries. The 17 mines are not in operation at the moment with the matter before the SC.

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