The Supreme Court's decision Friday to ban all mining and transportation operations in Goa for four weeks could come as a relief for Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who has been on a sticky wicket as far as dealing with the mining impasse in Goa is concerned.
Parrikar has been hastily fire-fighting green lobbies, who have accused him of being hand in glove with the mining industry, as well as his own legislators linked to the mining lobby, who have been canvassing hard to repeal the temporary closure of mining operations ordered last month by Parrikar, also mines minister.
The Supreme court's ban comes against the backdrop of temporary suspension of mining operations ordered by Parrikar last month, as well as a cancellation of environment clearances by the union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), which are mandatory for companies extracting iron ore from Goa's nearly 90-odd open cast iron ore mines.
"It was, 'do this and be damned or don't do this and be damned any way'. Tactically, it (the Supreme Court order) is a good thing because it takes the onus of closure of mines off the chief minister's office," a senior state BJP functionary told IANS.
Ever since the Justice M.B. Shah Commission report was tabled in parliament last month, the lack of strong action by Parrikar against errant mining companies has been criticised by the opposition as well as the environmentalists.
"Parrikar, when he was opposition leader, said that the Congress was backing illegal mining. By not taking action against illegal mining which has been probed by the Shah Commission report, he is exposing his closeness to the miners," maverick Congress leader Sudip Tamhankar said.
The suicide of a suspended junior mines department official, Dattatray Bhave, had also resulted in the Congress accusing Parrikar of going after the small fry, instead of the bigwigs involved in the mining scam.
Green activists like Ramesh Gauns claim that a lot was expected from Parrikar as far as dealing with illegal mining was concerned, because he had exposed several scams in his role as opposition leader.
"But it turned out to be the same story. Like the Digambar Kamat government, this government too has a soft spot for the mining lobby," Gauns said.
Along with the ban, the Supreme Court has also asked a central empowered committee (CEC) to submit within four weeks a report on illegal mining.
The CEC appointed by the apex court follows a sudden decision on Tuesday by Parrikar to appoint a committee headed by a retired Mumbai High Court judge R.M.S. Khandeparkar to probe and verify the findings of the Justice M B Shah-led judicial commission, which has pegged Goa's mining scam at Rs.35,000 crore and has indicted all mining companies, who the report said had a nexus with politicians and bureaucrats.
"The Khandeparkar committee, which has been given 60 days to verify and probe the Shah commission's findings, is an eyewash and a duplication of work. What is required is action," Gauns said.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org))