Panaji, Jan 30: By opting to renew and grant over 85 mining leases to the same companies accused of being part of a Rs. 35,000 crore illegal mining scam, the BJP-led Goa government may have reneged on a key promise made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Lok Sabha poll manifesto which advocates auctioning of precious natural resources.
The controversial eight-page Goa Grant of Mining Leases Policy 2014, which was notified last week, has allowed the same tainted mining companies to regain, for a nominal fee for 20 years, the same leases with which they had been accused of illegally mining.
The state government's decision is in stark contrast with the promise made by Modi in his poll manifesto ahead of the 2014 general elections vis-a-vis auctioning of natural resources. Under the 'Natural and National Resources' header, the BJP's poll manifesto first quotes Gandhian virtues and then cautions against the culture of usurping natural resources and mismanagement.
"We will implement auction of precious resources through efficient mechanisms including e-auction," it reads.
The state government's policy also justifies the renewal of mining leases, citing an August 2014 Bombay High Court judgment that directed the state government to renew 27 leases following a plea by mining lease holders.
Interestingly, then chief minister Manohar Parrikar, also the minister for mines, refused to challenge the order in the Supreme Court.
"The mining lease owners trusted the government when no one else did. I don't need to challenge the High Court judgement... as it clearly says that the lease deeds can be executed subject to the conditions laid down by the Apex court in the writ petition," Parrikar, now the country's defence minister, said then.
The Supreme Court, while lifting a two-year-old mining ban in Goa last April, had also advocated the auctioning route to the Goa government.
In its order, the Apex court had also ruled that nearly all mining leases in Goa were not valid and asked the state government to initiate a process of issuing fresh leases, which begs the question: If the mining leases are not valid, how can they be renewed?
Justifying the haste for renewing the leases, the Goa government's policy says that nearly 150,000 people directly or indirectly dependent on the mining industry were affected and that India has suffered a loss of $8 billion due to the two-year-old ban.
On paper, only 12,546 people have been officially listed with the state mines department as mining dependants, who are entitled to a monthly government dole.
The Supreme Court's suggestion in its order to set up a state-operated mining corporation has also been brushed aside in the new policy, which claims that handing over the mining sector to the government would promote inefficiency.
After renewing the mining leases, all eyes are now on the union environment and forests ministry which has to grant relevant green clearances for operations to begin.