With the cancellation of iron ore mining leases in Goa, the judiciary has once again stepped into the space vacated by executive failure and legislative lethargy. But the courts cannot compensate for the lack of sound policy and its effective implementation.
The Supreme Court order cancelling mining leases in Goa with effect from mid-March shows scant regard for the mining economy or the people who earn their livelihood from it, focusing only on what the court terms the avarice of the miners and, implicitly, of the colluding politicians who renewed extant leases instead of holding fresh auctions.
That mining should be environmentally sustainable is not in question. That state and society should gain from the mineral wealth of the land is not in question. That mining rights should be allocated not on the basis of legacy Portuguese privilege but on the basis of auctions is not in question.
That deficiencies in existing arrangements that prevent these goals from being achieved should be removed is not in question. The problem is that the SC order will bring mining activity to a halt, pending issuance of fresh leases based on auction and environmental impact studies and clearances, hurting thousands of workers and transporters, eroding the state’s exchequer, India’s exports and the banks that have lent to the mining companies and financed mining equipment and barges and trucks.
Can continuity of mining be achieved, while meeting the socially desirable goals stated above? Of course, they can. For that, a lot of work has to be completed before transferring licences from their present holders to those newly found eligible.
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