The proposed renewal of 27 mining leases has not gone down well with social activists and others, who suggest that the government auction the leases directly and challenge the order of the high court of Bombay at Goa in the Supreme Court. Chief minister Manohar Parrikar announced in the state legislative assembly on Monday that at least 27 mining leases, for which stamp duty had been paid, would be renewed by October 15. This is on condition that they pay the cess levied for iron ore extraction during 2007-2012. He also stated that mining activities are likely to be resumed by December 2014.
The high court of Bombay at Goa had through an order on August 14 directed the state to renew the lease deeds in favour of mining companies that had paid the stamp duty in accordance with the Goa Mineral Policy, 2013. Social activist Ramesh Gauns pointed out that the advocate general had tried to protect the state’s interest in his arguments. The government had also taken the stand that the petitioners should approach the Supreme Court and seek appropriate orders.
“If the government challenges the high court order in the Supreme Court, only then it will be clear that it is protecting the state interest, and if not, then it is protecting the interests of the mining lobby,” Gauns said. Nearly 28 mining companies and firms had petitioned the high court, seeking a direction to the state government to decide their applications for renewal filed in 2007, stating that they were entitled to a second renewal, as they had paid huge amounts in stamp duty on the state’s directions.
The division bench held that the government could not retract its promise as it is stopped by the doctrine of promissory estoppel after promising execution of mining leases under Section 8(3) of the MMDR Act. Gauns recalled the sequence leading to the payment of stamp duty by the 27 lease holders. “While the mining matter was sub judice in the Supreme Court, the government had served notices to the companies for payment of stamp duty,” he alleged.
Further, activists pointed out that the Supreme Court had, in its order on April 21, held that all mining leases issued extension after 2007 even after completion of the maximum 20 years of renewal period were illegal. “How could the government think of renewing the leases when the apex court ruled that the mining activity since 2007 was illegal and the lease holders have been tainted prima facie?” anti-mining activist Rama Velip asked.
The apex court had passed the order in relation to a write petition filed by Goa Foundation, alleging a plunder of iron ore worth Rs 35,000 crore, as per the Shah commission report findings, and praying that resumption of the activity not be permitted till the money was recovered. The stamp duty can even be refunded and the leases auctioned directly or the government can take over the mines and work them through a corporation, he added.
Gauns further stated that as per Section 8(3) of MMDR Act, the state government can renew the lease in the interest of mineral development, but it has to record the reasons for it. “When the ore is used for finished goods within the country, it can be renewed under section 8 (3), but in this case will it be used as a raw material locally or for export?” he asked.
Activist Sebastian Rodrigues pointed out that the government had assured fast tracking the issuance of environmental clearances. “This should not be done, as environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports earlier have been largely spurious,” he said.