Mineral Exhaustion: Clear and Present Danger

Mineral extraction came to an abrupt halt in 2012 following publication of the Shah Commission Report. Exports of Iron ore had been at a steady rate for over 50 years but from 2007 they soared due to a surge in demand from China. The resultant mineral price-hike prompted dramatic, unrestricted expansion in Goan mining activity.

This is the eighth part of a series.  Read the other parts here

The Shah Commission report exposed the underlying toxic greed, which by 2012 had reached epidemic proportions. Rampant, illegal mining had resulted in “ … a complete collapse of the system” (Justice Shah).

Chillingly yet less well-publicised, the Shah Commission revealed that Goa’s mineral store was being decimated. Based on the known reserves of 577 mt and approved rates of extraction of 66 mt, Goa’s iron ore would be exhausted in nine years!

October 2012 saw Goa Foundation file a PIL in the Supreme Court asking for a permanent ban on mining. This was designed to alleviate the irreparable damage already visited on Goa’s landscape, public health and unique biodiversity as a direct result of unscrupulous mining.

A mining ban was implemented with immediate effect. The Supreme Court instigated a thorough investigation of the mining industry and instructed a swathe of committees, including the expert committee on caps (ECOC), to submit in-depth reports. These would inform future planning with the objective of achieving fair and sustainable mining in Goa.  The ECOC were commissioned to estimate a ceiling for iron ore production with the following remit: to protect and promote intergenerational equity (IE) and sustainable development. The ECOC submitted an interim report. Based on this, the Supreme Court imposed a provisional cap of 20 mtpa. In addition, the SC ordered that in future 10% of the value of Goa’s iron ore be deposited into the Permanent Fund.

 

Public Trust and Intergenerational Equity

The Supreme Court of India ruled that four principles – intergenerational equity, sustainable development, the precautionary principle and polluter pays principle – are part of the Indian Constitution’s Right to Life. It recognises the intergenerational equity principle in the context of conservation of scarce resources such as minerals. It also ruled that the public trust doctrine, a part of the Right to Life, extends to all natural resources. The state acts in the role of trustee on behalf of the people, particularly our future generations.

The public trust doctrine classifies natural resources a part of the commons. This means that they are owned equally by all, and legally owned by the state of Goa. The intergenerational equity principle is quite simple: the resources and opportunities that the present generation inherit must be available to future generations in perpetuity. In simple terms, if you inherit something, you are merely a custodian and the resource must be conserved for the next generation.

What inherited assets do mining impact?

The preservation of mineral assets and sustainable development fall into three broad categories:

  • The opportunity to mine and utilise the iron ore: on course to deplete to zero in nine years. What about our children? Don’t they have a right to extract iron ore as well?
  • The environment and social fabric: our most valuable asset being destroyed and degraded to varying degrees.
  • The mineral, which has inherent value and, prior to mining, is part of the public trust, a part of the commons.

In May 2014 Goa Foundation responded to the SC’s judgment by submitting an independent blueprint for fair mining. This comprehensive strategy is designed to work in conjunction with the SC mandates, dramatically reduce the environmental burden on the state, provide a cushion of income for the state, and ensure productive employment and better prospects for those in the mining belt. Sustainable caps form an integral part of the long-term strategy.

The key elements:

(a) Minimize loss of mineral value while mining

(b) Save ALL (100%) of money from mining in a Permanent Fund

Phases of implementation:

(a) Phase one: initial two years where e-auction of mining residues supports infrastructure building earth moving activities

(b) Phase two: where dumps are sold or used to restore abandoned mines

(c) Phase three: commence fresh mining to sustainable caps and potentially including one or two state-owned ventures

With reference to the opportunity to mine, Goa Foundation recommends an extraction cap of 1/200th of the proven reserves. Assuming a reserve of at least 1 billion tons, this cap would be around 5 mtpa (million tons per annum), compared with the peak extraction of over 50 mtpa. This would safeguard the mineral for at least 200 years, nearly seven generations. Thus ensuring that our children and grandchildren have an opportunity to mine.

In terms of the environment, prescribed mechanisms would deal with marginal damage. This is essentially the ‘polluter pays’ principle. New trees must be planted for those cut down, the environment must be restored after mining. This principle can be extended to many diverse impacts and is already law.

However, the polluter pays principle does not deal with system-wide impacts, and those that critically damage key assets such as a rare species or our water supplies. Goa Foundation recommends a cap set at a level at which all the environmental parameters are met, and irreversible damage avoided. In practice, key environmental parameters would need to be continually monitored. If thresholds were breached, this would trigger an automatic reduction in the cap. Applying the precautionary principle, the cap would drop easily, but rise cautiously. Goa Foundation recommends an initial cap set at 12 mtpa, which is the extraction level at which the benthic life, especially the iconic windowpane oyster faced extinction.

Little is lost if mining slows down because the next generation can still extract the mineral. This approach detailed by GF in its affidavit ensures that no permanent damage occurs and temporary damage is compensated under the polluter pays principle.

The third asset, the value of the mineral itself, has a relatively simple solution. When minerals are extracted, create a publicly-owned Permanent Fund to deposit the receipts for the benefit of future generations.

 

Expert Committee final report

The ECOC eventually submitted its report on mining dumps, and final report on the cap. The latter report recommends a remarkably high cap of 30 mtpa. Responses to the report were filed by the Goa government, Ministry of Environment Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC), Union Ministry of Mines and Goa Foundation.

The Goa government recommended increasing the cap, subject to improvements to infrastructure, road networks, jetties and so forth. The Union Ministry of Mines didn’t take a stance on either the caps or the Permanent Fund. The MoEFCC revealed the overall view of central Government: it referenced various recommendations of the ECOC, including the caps and agreed with the recommendations.

Goa Foundation specifically questioned the validity of the methodology used to determine the caps. The proposed high level of caps violated common sense. 30 mtpa was quantified by the Shah Commission to exhaust resources within 20 years. Severe environmental impact was evidenced below 30-mtpa levels. By way of comparison, the cap in Bellary, Karnataka is 25 mtpa, an area twice as large with much lower ecological sensitivity.

 

Comparing Goa and Bellary
Features Bellary District

 

Goa State
Status District of Karnataka State of India
Cap imposed 25 MTPA 20 MTPA (21.4.2015)

30-37MTPA (proposed) by Expert Committee

Area 8,447 sq km

 

3,702 sq km
Population (Census 2011) 25,32,383 14,57,723
UNESCO World Heritage Sites Hampi Old Goa
Forest area 970 sq km (11.9%)

 

1,424 sq km (38.5%). According to FSI, forest cover is 60%.
Forest type Thorn and Scrub Estuarine, Strand vegetation, Plateau vegetation and Semi-evergreen and evergreen
Wild Life Sanctuaries / National Parks 1 (Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary) 6 (Mhadei, Bhagwan Mahaveer/Mollem, Netravali, Cotigao, Bondla, Dr. Salim Ali/Chorao)
Area under WLS/NP 55.87 sq km (0.66%) 755.31 (20.4%)
Rare, Endangered and Threatened (RET) species 39 of fauna, 9 of flora Numerous, across all categories (avian, flora, fauna, etc). New species being discovered regularly.
Rainfall 575 mm per annum 3,005 mm per annum
Rivers 5 rivers flowing 11 rivers are flowing across the leases with 42 tributaries. All leases in catchment areas
Forest land for mining Around 8,000 hectares Around 11,000 hectares

 

The ECOC report comprised individual commentaries drawn from various fields. This may go some way to explaining why the final report contains inconsistencies such as conflicting data interpretations and seemingly illogical conclusions rendering it confusing.

In contrast to the ECOC report, Goa Foundation recommends two separate caps. One is based on extension of the life of the resource to seven generations, through a cap of 1/200th the proven reserves. The second cap is based on the lowest level at which the precautionary principle would come in to action.

Thus far, at 12 mtpa, the benthic life in the rivers had nearly become extinct. This was proposed as the initial cap on extraction. Goa Foundation anticipated that this cap be increased cautiously – every 5 years, by at most 5 mtpa. Close monitoring of environmental parameters such as water quality decline below permissible limits, or other significant damage and the cap would drop immediately.

‘We would like to recommend that Goa follow the Precautionary Principle when considering the cap on mining. The first course of action is to set up a dedicated institute to monitor Goa’s environment and social status. It should create a baseline, using the current stoppage of mining as far as possible. This baseline needs to cross all disciplines . . . This, in fact, the ECOC has recommended’

GF Affidavit on Cap and Dump Report and on Report of Monitoring Committee, 21.09.15

The Supreme Court is yet to provide a final decision on Expert Committee report. Meanwhile Goa Foundation is appealing the resolution on caps as well as challenging the illegal lease renewals.

The state of Goa lost more than 95% of the value of the minerals over an eight-year period. Rs. 65,058 CRORES of ore belonging to the people of Goa has been unlawfully mined as ruled by the Supreme Court and the culprits yet to be formally charged and prosecuted by the Goa Government.

Our valuables have been sold off indiscriminately behind our backs for rock bottom prices i.e. for the cost of a lease renewal.

 

‘ . . . losing Rs.4 of assets for every Rs.1 of income created’

GF Affidavit on Cap and Dump Report and on Report of Monitoring Committee, 21.09.15

 

What are the implications for future generations? What of the current generation? We’re witnessing the blatant ransacking of our land and yet somehow we refuse to see what is right in front of us. Why is that? Goa is being undermined, literally. Leases have been illegally renewed and a new round of mining is poised to begin. The riches inherent in the very ground we stand on continues to be sucked out of the earth at an alarming rate.

The very soil that we live, work, grow crops, and raise our children on will be a thing of the past if we don’t acknowledge the clear and present danger of mineral exhaustion in the here and now.

The time to act is upon us. Time to join with and support those who have been acting on our behalf. Time to adopt the Goan land movement Goenchi Mati and the campaign to reclaim our rights and our real wealth as beneficial owners of our historic land. Ore Chor! 144.

This is the eighth part of a series.  Read the other parts here

By Sarah Dynah McGinnis

 

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