For over nearly two years now, Leader of the Opposition Manohar Parrikar has been demanding that the Goa government should take action against illegal mining of iron ore. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader has pointed out that close to one-third of the ore exported from Goa is from illegal mines.
But the Goa government has been dragging its feet. It gives assurances in the Legislative Assembly, but takes little concrete action. Issuing show cause notices and stop work orders, the government’s favourite mode of ‘action’, accomplishes little.
What is needed is to seize expensive mining machinery from these illegal mines and to stop export of illegally mined ore. It is only when they are hit where it hurts - in earnings - that illegal miners and exporters of illegally mined ore will think twice about what they are doing.
Now, it is not just the opposition but the central government that has slammed mineral-rich states like Goa for doing little or nothing to contain illegal mining. On Friday, Union Mines Minister Bijoy Krishna Handique firmly told mining secretaries of mineral-rich states to prepare “state-specific action plans within a week”. The minister said his ministry has issued a specific directive to the states to submit reports on this every month.
Mining Secretaries of Goa, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh were present at the meeting. The minister also asked the states to prohibit sale of illegally mined minerals and assured that it will institutionalise mechanisms to keep a close watch on ports and railway sidings. Mr Handique told states that their lackadaisical way of dealing with the problem has led to it assuming endemic proportions.
The union ministry will ask states to monitor the quantum of ore mined and the offtake of the mineral. It wants “intense scrutiny” of iron ore lying at ports and railway sidings, to ascertain whether it was mined in accordance with approved plans. Buyers of ore will have to ensure that their ore is not illegally mined, and will have to produce vouchers showing that royalty has been paid on the ore they purchased. In Goa, nearly all the mined ore is exported. So will exporters have to fulfil the responsibility of buyers too?
Quaintly, in the course of the meeting, the union minister told the state mining secretaries that his ministry would be ready to approach the Union Home Ministry in case any state felt the need for special police forces to crack down on illegal mining. That would be a first, in Goa, where the police forces invariably protect the mine operators - legal or illegal, right or wrong - and crack down on the protesting public.
Editorial in Herald, November 30 2009, Panaji