The Supreme Court today quashed the second renewal of 88 iron ore mining leases in Goa in 2015, saying the sole motive of the companies behind the commercial activity was profit maximisation and no social purpose was attached to it.
The top court held as illegal the renewal given to the companies, by holding that the move was against the earlier decisions and orders of the apex court which in 2014 had said that the state government was required to grant fresh mining leases and not to give second renewal.
It directed the Centre and the Goa government to grant fresh environmental clearances to them and asked the state to take necessary steps to grant fresh mining leases in accordance with the provisions of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957.
The court said it was giving time till March 15 to mining lease holders, who have been granted a second renewal in violation of its previous directions, to manage their affairs.
"However, they are directed to stop all mining operations with effect from March 16, 2018 until fresh mining leases (not fresh renewals or other renewals) are granted and fresh environmental clearances are granted," the bench said.
It asked the state government to take necessary steps to expedite recovery of the amounts to be due from mining lease holders pursuant to the show cause notices issued to them and other reports available with it, including the report of the SIT and the team of chartered accountants.
A bench of justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, in its 101-page judgement, said the state government was obliged to grant fresh mining leases in accordance with law.
It observed that "rapacious and rampant exploitation" of natural resources was the hallmark of the 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.
It said the second renewal of the mining leases granted by the state was "unduly hasty", without taking all relevant material into consideration and ignoring available relevant material and was not in the interests of mineral development.
The decision, the bench said, was taken only to augment the revenues of the state, which is outside the purview of Section 8(3) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act.
"The second renewal of the mining leases granted by the State of Goa is liable to be set aside and is quashed," the bench held.
It said 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 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.
"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 apex court also directed the setting up of an SIT and a team of chartered accountants to recover the amount from mining companies, which were allowed to extract ore in violation of the law.
The court's observation came in a 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.
The NGO had earlier also raised the issue of companies carrying out mining in violation of various statutes.
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 noted that 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.
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