New Delhi, Feb 7 : The Supreme Court on Wednesday cancelled 88 mining leases in Goa that were renewed by the state government in 2015 just before the Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act mandated the auction of mining leases.
Cancelling the leases that were renewed for 20 years from 2007, a bench of Justice Madan B.
Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta said that the Goa government "should take all 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 that the second renewal of the mining leases was "unduly hasty, without taking all relevant material into consideration and ignoring available relevant material and therefore not in the interests of mineral development".
Speaking for the bench, Justice Lokur held that "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".
"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," he said.
"Unfortunately", the judgement said, "the state was unable to firmly stop violations of the law and other illegalities, perhaps with a view to maximize revenue, but without appreciating the long term impact of this indifference."
Another excuse generally put forth by the State, the court said was that of development, "conveniently forgetting that development must be sustainable and equitable development and not otherwise".
It said that the decision to renew the mining leases was taken "only to augment the revenues of the State" which is outside the purview of Section 8(3) of the MMDR Act.
The top court judgement cancelling the mining leases has come on a petition by NGO Goa Foundation which had challenged the renewal of mining leases by the State government.
Allowing the existing lease holders to continue with their mining operations till March 15, the court said all activities would come to a halt from March 16 "until fresh mining leases (not fresh renewals or other renewals) are granted and fresh environmental clearances are granted".
The court said that the Ministry of Environment and Forest "should also take all necessary steps to grant fresh environmental clearances to those who are successful in obtaining fresh mining leases."
The entire exercise, the court said "should be completed by the State of Goa and the Ministry of Environment and Forest as early as reasonably practicable."
Goa will take all necessary steps to ensure that the Special Investigation Team and the team of chartered accountants constituted pursuant to the Goa Grant of Mining Leases Policy 2014 give their report at the earliest and the same should be implemented "at the earliest, unless there are very good reasons for rejecting them".
The Goa government will take all necessary steps to expedite recovery of the amounts said to be due from the mining lease holders pursuant to the show cause notices issued to them and pursuant to other available reports, it said.