2G Raja played decisive role in Goa’s Illegal Mining

While 2G Spectrum scam accused former Union Telecom Minister A Raja is now housed at the Tihar Jail; as the Union Minister for Environment 2004-2009 he is responsible for given environmental clearance to 169 mines in Goa to extract 60 million tons of iron-ore annually. GoaChronicle.com brings to its readers this shocking expose on how A Raja allowed mining in forest areas in the state, we also feature a list of the 120 mines cleared in 2007…

During his stint as the Union Minister of Environment between 2004 and 2009, 2G Spectrum scam accused and former telecom minister A Raja had given environmental clearances to 169 mines in Goa to extract 60 million tons of iron-ore annually.

Claude Alvares, who heads non-governmental organization Goa Foundation that is one of the NGOs spearheading the anti-mining campaign, said, “Raja’s tenure coincided with the Chinese boom in 2005 (when that country started buying even low-grade ore with iron content as low as 52%). Under Raja, an environmental clearance became the easiest document to get.”

Sources in the know revealed many of the environment impact assessment (EIA) studies on the basis of which the MoEF gave these clearances have proved to be inaccurate, not reflecting the actual position on the ground.

Corroborating with Claude Alvares, Sunita Narian, director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) who has been studying the issue of illegal mining in Goa states that Raja’s tenure as environment minister was the beginning of the phase of growth of mineral exploitation and of new projects; but it is also the biggest shame on India’s environment history because of bad processed and corruption.

In a report released by yesterday on environmental clearances given for various projects between 2007 and 2011. The report said 35 clearances were given to mining projects in Goa during this period.

CSE report also further shows that in one year alone, between 2007 and 2008; the Union Ministry granted clearances to 17 mines within the Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary in Sanguem taluka. This was done even though a Supreme Court order of 2000 said that no mine would be allowed to operate inside wildlife sanctuaries. None of the 17 mines is operational now as the matter is before the Supreme Court.

Since June 2007, 120 mining projects came up for clearance with ministry recommending clearance for overwhelming 48 per cent of the projects. The remaining 52 per cent of the projects are still pending with ministry but the environment appraisal committee has not rejected any project. There were some projects which received specific attention such as Mahavir Mineral Bauxite Mine (lease area fell in CRZ) and Devapan Dongar Iron & Manganese mine (permission granted only for iron ore mine and not manganese ore mining because of its negative environmental impacts. However, still these projects were not rejected.

Large number of clearance also means that a large areas of fertile agricultural land getting diverted for mining. Since June 2007, the total numbers of mining projects, which have been submitted for clearance, cover a huge area of 9,404 ha. This is only a year’s data. No data is available as to how much land was diverted for mining between 2002-03 and 2006-07. Adding this 9,404 ha to the total land under mining in Goa (till 2002-03), it works out to be 10.5 per cent of the total area leased out for mining major minerals in the state.

The mining rich Talukas of South Goa, Quepem, Sanguem and Canacona has 26.3 per cent, 64.2 per cent and 53.3 per cent forest cover respectively. The proposed 120 mining projects are in these forests rich Talukas and many of the mine leases also fall in the forest area. Therefore, if projects are cleared, it will significantly alter the forest cover in these Talukas. Other than the forest, the proposed projects also cover a lot of agricultural land and were one of the major causes of concern. According to a report, in Rivona Panchayat in Sanguem Taluka, out of total village land of 1929 ha, 1510 ha is under 23 mining leases granted during colonial Portuguese regime that ended in 1961 but were continued by the free India state.

On an average 2.5 to 3 tons of mining waste have to be excavated to produce a ton of iron ore. According to the CSE Report, let assume an average generation of 2.75 tonnes of waste to extract 1 tonnes of iron ore. In all the iron ore projects submitted for clearance since June 2007, on an average 55 million tons of waste will be generated every year. This is a huge quantity. The impact would be much more significant as most of the proposed mining leases are surrounded by agricultural field and since rainfall in the region is very high, overflow of mining waste will cause extensive damage to agricultural land and water bodies.

Interestingly, a part from one or two big project, rest all proposed projects are small to medium scale mines with annual production in the range of 0.1 to 0.3 million tons of iron ore per annum. The quality of EIA’s is very poor and a large number of them are copy-paste of each other. For example, the Joleracho Dongor iron ore mine’s EIA report and  Matheapan-E-Satarcarachem iron ore mine’s EIA report are same except the degree of latitude  and longitude. Moreover, EIAs which came for analysis to Centre for Science and Environment does not have a clear mine closure plan. If proper action is not taken by Ministry of Environment and Forest, than surely these small projects will eat up the existing forest and natural resources and after few years leave behind exhausted pit filled with water.

After Jairam Ramesh took over the environment ministry from Raja in June 2009, a moratorium was imposed on new mining projects in February 2010.

Here is the list of  the 120 mines that had got clearance in 2007, when A Raja was Union Minister for Environment:

* Remaining names are produced in the document attached to this article.

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