The Goa Foundation says a new proposal of the Ministry of Mines infringes on the rights of State governments and would lead to the sale of mines at below-market prices

Published : March 04, 2021 09:58 IST

A landscape ravaged by mining in Goa. Photo: The Hindu Archives

The Goa Foundation, a well-respected environmental action group, has expressed its dissatisfaction with a proposal of the Ministry of Mines on the management of mineral wealth.

It says the new proposal ignores the National Mineral Policy 2019 and violates the rights of future generations. Referring to mineral resources as “a shared inheritance, owned by State governments as a trustee for the people”, the foundation likened it to the family silver. It said the forcible sale of mines at less than market value would be “cheating”.

The foundation explains: “Under our Constitution, sub-soil minerals are a shared inheritance, owned by State governments as trustee for the people and especially future generations. Mining is the sale and disposal of this inheritance, and the constitutional goal is zero loss in value during the financial transaction—any loss would violate the right to equality…. The Goa Foundation feels the Government of India is now, for reasons best known to it, willing to sell off the family silver at a massive discount.”

The proposed changes would basically enable the Central government to auction mines in the States. Claude Alvares, director of the Goa Foundation, says the new law would enable the Centre “to force States to sell their family silver at a below-market price that the Centre sets. The proposed prices are vastly lower than the market price of the minerals—the royalty and auction premia on auctioned merchant leases. This amounts to a grant of largesse to the beneficiaries, while cheating the State and future generations of their wealth. It also favours some miners over others. This is unconstitutional and an invitation to prolonged litigation. It’s also taking two steps backwards, after the law was changed to allow only auctions of mineral wealth.”

The foundation says that the National Mineral Policy 2019 provided “a number of safeguards, including an inter-ministerial body including representatives of State governments to decide on aspects like whether we should sell our family silver, when we should sell it, and on what terms—royalties, etc. Without constituting this body, the Ministry has proposed specific conditions for sale of the family silver to be incorporated into the MMDR Act.”

Says Claude Alvares: “How would States then fulfil their duties as public trustees to conserve the shared inherited mineral wealth if they have no control over if, when or how they sell their family silver? How would States meet intergenerational equity? These proposals violate the principle of subsidiarity and the federal structure of our Constitution. The Supreme Court has already held that the grant of mining leases is a prerogative of State governments. How come the Central government wants to usurp that power?”

Alvares questions the tendency of the Central government to steamroll all opposition to its plans. He says: “It is unfortunate to see that the Ministry has repeatedly violated the pre-legislative consultation policy and the RTI Act in formulating and announcing these proposals. And we are shocked to hear that of the 12,149 comments the Ministry received on the consultations on the draft MMDR amendments held in 2020, it has considered only those suggestions ‘which are committed for reforms in the sector’. Put simply, the Ministry only listens to those who agree with its increasingly backward-looking reforms.”

The foundation has called on all State governments to “urgently examine the consequences of these proposals on the federal structure of our union, the constitutionality of these proposals especially in light of their role as public trustees over the shared inheritance of mineral wealth on behalf of the people and future generations.”

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