Away from the mining dust-lined bowels of the Goan hinterland, the fight against mining will now be fought in the stately interiors of the Supreme Court of India. This is a battle that promises to be gritty.
Nearly a month after imposing a month-long ban on mining in Goa, the Supreme Court Friday began to hear arguments that will go towards deciding the fate of mining in Goa, which has been beset with controversy for the last few years.
The ban on mining in the state followed a petition by civil society activist Prashant Bhushan and Claude Alvares, who runs the Goa Foundation, an NGO that focusses on environmental issues.
The petitioners said that a sympathetic administration was allowing illegal mining to continue, despite the fact that a judicial commission headed by former Supreme Court judge M.B. Shah had nailed a Rs.35,000 crore scam in Goa.
"The failure of the state to control illegal mining has led to large-scale destruction of both forest and non-forest land and as such has adversely affected the livelihood of local people, especially the rural poor," the petition said.
The mining lobby, represented by the Goa Mineral Ore Exporters Association (GMOEA), is also in the process of filing an intervention petition before the Supreme Court.
Shivanand Salgaocar, a leading mining operator and president of the GMOEA, claims that they have been wrongly painted as "villains" in the illegal mining saga.
"Each passing day, more and more missiles are fired at us. So it is imperative that we offer clarification of the notional loss of Rs.35,000 crore to the state government that has been attributed to us by the Shah Commission," said Salgaocar, whose mining company has also been indicted in the Shah Commission report for encroaching on government property.
With the ban on mining stretching over a month now, employees of mining companies have also decided to take matters to the apex court seeking nationalisation of Goa's mining industry.
The newly formed Goa Mining Labour Workers Union (GMLWU) has also filed an intervention petition "seeking an order from the court to direct the state government to take over the mines and form a government-operated corporation to run the same".
"These scams are a result of corporate greed. The Goa government should be made to form a corporation which will run the mines. This will give job security to the workers, who are at present in suspense over the future of their employment," union general secretary Christopher Fonseca said.
The Bharatiya Janata party-led government, which has been accused by the opposition and anti-mining activists of being close to the mining lobby, is also expected to file an affidavit in court seeking early resumption of legal mining in the state.
"Legal mining should not be hampered. Let the culprits responsible for illegal mining be investigated and punished. But those who have been working legally should be allowed to carry on with their activity," a senior official said, even as the Shah Commission report said that nearly all mines in Goa were operating without the necessary permission and clearances.
Meanwhile, a central empowered committee (CEC) appointed by the Supreme Court to probe illegal mining in Goa returned to Delhi Tuesday after a three-day field trip here.
The CEC had been mandated by the apex court in October to probe evidence related to illegal mining in Goa for a month before submitting a report.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)