End of the road for mining companies?
Last week the High Court of Bombay at Goa threw out petitions filed by over a dozen mining lease holders, or perhaps we should say business houses desperately trying to hold on to leases which expired in 2007.
The business houses, which had once enjoyed unfettered rights to iron ore for 50 years, were attempting to get the court to validate their leases till 2037 by relying on a rather broad, too broad, interpretation of section 8 of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015.
The argument before the court was that the amendment undid the Supreme Court order, which held that all the leases had expired in 2007.
The high court saw through the ruse and threw all the petitions out. So, is this the end of the road for mine ‘owners’? Was this the last attempt to protect their business interests?
It is almost a decade since mining was brought to a halt by the late Manohar Parrikar, and it looks like the high court has brought this lengthy legal battle to its conclusion. Logically, this should pave the way for the auction of mine leases, something that mine owners in Goa had been trying to block for the last 10 years. It helped that they had the government on their side, until recently, when the government miraculously found itself on the same page as Goa Foundation.
The journey to this point has been a long one and in which two Supreme Court orders, now known as Goa Foundation—I and GF—II, played a key role. GF—I declared that all mining leases in Goa had expired in 2007 and all mining after that was deemed illegal. This effectively meant mining leases could not be renewed.
Despite this judgement, the Laxmikant Parsekar government renewed 88 mining leases in one day, on the basis that the 2015 amendment blanked out GF—I. In GF—II, the Supreme Court quashed the renewals and upheld GF-I.
Despite this, mining lease holders continued to launch legal battles in the Supreme Court and high court. And kept on losing.
If one thing is clear, it is that the mine lease holders have really deep pockets even though no mining was undertaken for the last 10 years.
In the meantime, the state government made its plans clear to form a corporation and auction mining leases. This means mining companies in Goa could still enter their bids, but now they will have to shell out more cash to win a situation they were trying to avoid in the first place.
Besides, once new leases are granted, companies will have to file fresh mining plans and acquire new environment clearances, and so on.
Truth is, the principle of auctioning mining leases was born out of corruption charges against the UPA government in the distribution of coal blocks and mobile phone spectrum. And this principle was upheld and enforced by the Narendra Modi government. Mining companies in Goa and the government have done everything to undermine this principle, and it is good that they failed.
For Goa, this is an opportunity to open a new chapter in iron ore mining and write a new story. A story in which the principle of ‘inter-generation equity’ spelt out by the Supreme Court is upheld. A story in which the interest of the state is put ahead of the interests of mining companies and the environment is protected and preserved.