Goa mulls ban on fresh mining activity

Panaji, Feb 16 (IANS) The Goa government is thinking of banning all fresh excavation of iron ore in the state, a top mining official has said in his affidavit filed before the Supreme Court of India.

However, in the same affidavit, the BJP-led state government has said that it would, instead, prefer to allow excavation of existing low grade iron ore dumps worth billions.

"I respectfully state that the state government is also contemplating, as of today, to completely ban all fresh excavation of mineral ore," Goa principal secretary (mines) Rajani Kant Varma said in his affidavit, filed in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking action against rampant illegal mining. The PIL was filed by a local NGO, along with noted Supreme Court lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan.

The affidavit, filed before India's apex court Friday, has also claimed that the state government has already confiscated low grade iron ore dumps on revenue and forest lands, which would be publicly auctioned to the highest bidder.

The mining dumps in question are in essence mountainous heaps of reject ore dumped by mining companies over the decades. The reject ore was not processed at that time because of feasibility issues.

A recent boom in iron ore demand and newer technologies have made harvesting of low grade reject ore easier, according to the Goa government and the state's mining industry.

Harvesting of dumps was deemed illegal by the erstwhile Digambar Kamat government, but weeks after coming to power, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar announced that his government would open the dumps for excavation, a move resisted by the central government.

A Goa government survey has estimated that the dumps comprise over 700 million tonnes of iron ore, one of the reasons why three BJP legislators Nilesh Cabral (Curchorem), Ganesh Gaonkar (Sanvordem) and Subhash Faldessai (Sanguem), who have business interests in the mining sector, have been publicly lobbying with the Goa government for harvesting this heap of rejected ore.

While the current international market rate for low grade iron is pegged at $ 125 per million tonne, the value of this mountainous pile of iron ore reject is well worth billions of rupees.

And the Goa government in its affidavit claims that the international market has shown increasing demand for low grade ore.

Rajani Kant has further said that harvesting of dumps would also ensure that there is no further fresh excavation of iron ore.

Mining has been banned in Goa for over four months now, after the Supreme Court, hearing a petition filed by Prashant Bhushan, announced a probe by a central empowered committee into Goa's Karnataka-like illegal mining scandal.

The petition follows the revelation of a Rs.35,000 crore illegal scam exposed by a judicial commission headed by Justice M.B. Shah who has said that top mining companies, politicians as well as bureaucrats, were beneficiaries of the scam.

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