The High Court of Bombay at Goa cleared the decks for the auction of mining leases by rejecting the petitions of mine leaseholders for extension of leases up to 2037.
Earlier, the Supreme Court, in the Goa Foundation case, had ruled that all mining leases had expired in 2007 and all mining activity following that was illegal.
However, the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015, which was passed on March 26, 2015, inserted Section 8 which breathed life into the demand of leaseholders for an extension till 2037.
This demand got a further fillip following the judgement of the Supreme Court, which came to be known as the Common Cause case. Mine leaseholders interpreted the judgement to mean that they were eligible and entitled to treat the original lease period as being 50 years, starting from November 1987.
In order to achieve this end, leaseholders filed a representation requesting the director of mines to execute lease extension deeds in their favour till 2037. However, this was rejected.
In May this year, they filed a petition before the High Court seeking a directive to the government to extend the leases.
For consideration before the court were Supreme Court rulings in two Goa Foundation cases (GF-I and GF-II), the Common Cause ruling and the 2015 amendment to the mine and minerals act.
The contention of Goa Foundation, which was a party to all the petitions, contended that in GF-I, the Supreme Court had ruled that mining leases in Goa expire on November 22, 1987, and maximum of 20 year renewal period of the leases had expired on 2007. Hence, GF-I effectively closed the option of both renewal and extension of leases.
The GF-II order came after the act was amended and quashed the hasty renewal of mining leases one day before the Ordinance was promulgated.
Goa Foundation counsel also argued that though the conclusions and direction in GF-II were concerning the second renewal of mining leases, yet since they were based on GF-I and issued after the 2015 amendment, petitioners cannot claim that the amendment wipes out GF-I. The advocate general, by and large, endorsed the arguments of Goa Foundation.
The High Court upheld the views of Goa Foundation and the government and ruled that the lease period had expired in 2007 and no extension was possible.
The timeline below exposes the several failed attempts by mining lease holders to get extension till 2037.
Sept 10, 2012: Goa government suspends all mining operations in the state.
Sept 14, 2012: Central government keeps in abeyance environment clearance granted to 139 mines.
April 21, 2014: Supreme Court rules that all mining leases had expired on November 22, 2007, and all mining following this date was deemed illegal. (GF-1)
August 13, 2014: High Court of Bombay at Goa directs the government to execute lease deeds in favour of leaseholders who had already paid stamp duty and decide renewal applications of those who had not paid stamp duty within three months.
January 11, 2015: State government renews 88 mine leases.
January 12, 2015: Union Ordinance amending mining act promulgated. Section 8A pertaining to renewal of leases inserted.
March 26, 2015: Ordinance converted into Act.
April 4, 2016: Supreme Court passes order in Common Cause case, which is later interpreted by mine leaseholders to mean that expansion is granted for 50 years till 2037.
February 7, 2018: Supreme Court rules that the second 88 renewals of mining leases were granted in undue haste. The renewals are set aside and quashed. (GF-II)
(Vedanta and the state government file petitions to review GF-II in the Supreme Court)
October 29, 2019: Vedanta files a representation based on Section 8 before the state government seeking extension of leases till 2037.
November 19, 2019: State govt expressed its inability to consider representation in view of GF-II.
(Vedanta challenges rejection order of the government in High Court, which is rejected)
July 9, 2021: Supreme Court dismisses review petitions against GF-II on grounds of limitations and merit.
October 7, 2022: High Court upholds GF-I and GF-II and dismisses petition of leaseholders seeking extension of leases till 2037.