Rapacious exploitation of natural resources is the hallmark of the iron ore mining sector, coupled with lack of concern for the environment and health of citizens, the Supreme Court said today, pulling up the Goa government for not stopping violations of the law.
The apex court said it was "unfortunate" that the sole motive of mining lease holders behind the commercial activity was profit maximisation and there was no social or public purpose attached to it.
"Rapacious and rampant exploitation of our natural resources is the hallmark of our iron ore mining sector - coupled with a total lack of concern for the environment and the health and well-being of the denizens in the vicinity of the mines," a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said.
"The sole motive of mining lease holders seems to be to make profits (no matter how) and the attitude seems to be that if the rule of law is required to be put on the backburner, so be it," it added.
The court's observation came in a 101-page judgement delivered on the petition filed by an NGO, Goa Foundation, challenging the Goa government's order in 2015 for a second renewal of 88 mining leases.
It also set aside the Bombay High Court order allowing the state government to grant a second renewal to mining leases.
Unfortunately, the state was unable to firmly stop violations of the law and other illegalities, perhaps with a view to maximise revenue, but without appreciating the long term impact of this indifference, the bench said.
"Another excuse generally put forth by the State is that of development, conveniently forgetting that development must be sustainable and equitable development and not otherwise," it said.
According to the bench, circumvention of mining and environment related laws is a tragedy in itself.
It said "laxity and sheer apathy" to the rule of law gives mining lease holders a "field day" as they are the primary beneficiaries and the state is left with some crumbs in the form of royalty.
"For the State to generate adequate revenue through the mining sector and yet have sustainable and equitable development, the implementation machinery needs a tremendous amount of strengthening while the law enforcement machinery needs strict vigilance.
"Unless the two marry, we will continue to be mute witnesses to the plunder of our natural resources and left wondering how to retrieve an irretrievable situation," it said, adding that the only objective behind mining activity was profit maximisation.
It said the renewal of the mining leases would give considerable profits to mining lease holders well beyond the benefits that could accrue to the state or to the average resident of Goa.
It referred to the previous judgement of retired Chief Justice J S Khehar that material resources of the country should not be dissipated free of cost or at a consideration lower than their actual worth.
"This was not kept in mind and mining leases were renewed for a small payment of stamp duty and royalty. It is therefore clear that the considerations that weighed with the State were not for the people of Goa but were for the mining lease holders. This certainly cannot be described as being 'in the interests of mineral development'," the bench said.
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