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Did BJP sabotage Congress-backed iron ore mining to replace it with coal?

by | Feb 25, 2022 | India

As Goa awaits its next government (which may likely be a non-BJP one), the National Coastal Zone Management Authority rejected Goa’s request for curtailing Goa’s lone all-weather deep-water port Mormugao’s limits. The move comes days after the Port was renamed Mormugao Port Authority, which means all local laws would be made redundant. As Goa struggles […]
"Mining trucks wash up near a dam in Goa" by fredericknoronha is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

As Goa awaits its next government (which may likely be a non-BJP one), the National Coastal Zone Management Authority rejected Goa’s request for curtailing Goa’s lone all-weather deep-water port Mormugao’s limits. The move comes days after the Port was renamed Mormugao Port Authority, which means all local laws would be made redundant. As Goa struggles to fight back the hegemony of the Port, the underlying motive behind the Centre’s overriding of Goa’s demands for curtailing Port limits becomes obvious.

The move also brings down the curtains on yet another episode of shadowboxing by Goa’s BJP government which speaks eco-friendly, people-centric language in Goa but does what its masters decree at the Centre.

   How the BJP Govt in Goa jumped the SC gun to shutdown Iron Ore Mining

Urban legend has it that the iron ore mining industry has traditionally supported a Congress government in the State. The surmise comes from the galloping iron ore exports that happened during the last Congress rule of 2007-12. In 2011, a year before the Assembly Polls, Mormugao Port recorded its highest exports in history a whopping 54.45 million metric tonnes of iron ore of which 47.23 MT was solely of Goan origin. The mind-boggling mines exports led to a slew of public interest litigations and the fact that Goa’s mining industry got greedy and gobbled more than it could chew. The next government would be brought in to clean up the mining mess.

But something of an anti-climax happened the next year. Hours after being sworn in as the Chief Minister, BJP’s Manohar Parrikar first promised to shut down all illegal mines in March 2012. Four months before Supreme Court (SC) would deliver its judgement, Parrikar, the then mining minister, shut down the mining industry a la demonetisation in September 2012. Days later even the SC would ban iron-ore trade in Goa. Goa’s iron-ore mining woes had just begun, and so had the Congress Party’s.

Between 2012 and 2022, Goa’s BJP government has been either clueless or tactically dragging its feet in L’affaire Goa Mining. To curb runaway extraction and mining overkill, a SC Expert Panel cut down annual extraction limits by less than half. A brazen attempt to grant innumerable leases to Goan mining barons was shot down by the apex court in 2018. And then the SC banned Mining completely a second time.

Goa’s mining industry might have been shut down by the Centre-owned Mormugao Port Authority was just shaken and stirred. It replaced the iron-ore with coal.       

How the BJP Govt at the Centre benefitted from Goa’s Iron Ore Mining Shutdown

Goa’s Mormugao Port first started importing coal about 2 million tons of coking coal for the steel plants at Bhadravan (SAIL) and Hospet (Jindal in Karnataka in 2001). In 2012, it had risen to nearly 7 MT and it was in 2016-17 that the Port handled over 12.75 million tonnes of coal imports from Australia, Indonesia and South Africa a rise of 70% in just 4 years. With JSW importing 10.11 million tonnes, followed by Adani 1.9 million tonnes as also Vedanta for its pig iron plant in Goa – from 2012 to 2016-17 while the iron ore exports came to a standstill, coal imports were replacing it. 

The Goans are scared by the striking down of NCZMA of their demands for restricting port limits. The Centre approved port limits that escape the stringent Coastal Regulations Zone straddle pristine river backwaters, mangroves, and, most importantly Goa’s world-famed beaches. The iron-ore mining created jobs and wealth in the hinterland yet coexisted peacefully with tourism on the beaches. Stacks of coal travelling through heavily dense heritage neighbourhoods and eco-sensitive forests and coal-laden ships coming from far away threaten Goa’s beaches and it is bringing down both the pillars of Goa’s economy – mining and tourism.

A Centre for Development and the Environment (at the University of Oslo) report notes that “The integration of Goa into India’s new coal geography was aligned with the big infrastructure programmes of the Indian government, namely Bharatmala (focused on roads and highways) and Sagarmala (focused on ‘port-led prosperity’). In a Sagarmala master plan for Mormugao port, finalised in 2016, the ambition to turn Mormugao into a coal hub was spelt out clearly through several new infrastructure projects. One was the capacity expansion of existing coal berths run by private actors to double their coal import capacity. The second was the dredging and expansion of the approach channel to enable much larger vessels (carrying more coal) to dock. The third was the redevelopment and expansion of additional berths for coal import by Vedanta. Various ‘optimistic scenarios’ set 50 MT of coal import per year as a target to be reached by 2030 or 2035. This would be achieved in part by enlisting 17 thermal power plants “in the pipeline in the hinterland” with a total capacity of more than 20,000 MW as new clients”.

The Centre’s report also noted that the mining ban had created a lacuna for Goa’s mining-related infrastructure. With mining suspended, “mining sites were unproductive, barges and trucks sat idle, roads and rivers saw less traffic, and export activities and revenue at Mormugao port fell dramatically. The mining ban was thus a central component in a conjuncture where multiple factors coalesced to create enabling conditions for the emergence of new coal geography in Goa: the loss of jobs and earnings; a dormant infrastructure; a large revenue crisis at Mormugao port; a new national Indian government with grand visions for new infrastructure projects; and private actors in search of coal. From this conjuncture emerged attempts to rework the state’s existing infrastructure to a new geography political economy centred on coal.”

The fact that a BJP government in the state enabled the development of this ecosystem as diktat-ed by the BJP at the Centre completed the picture. 

And the battle that’s simmering

So when Congress Party in Goa took a bold stand promising its Goal was No Coal and Rahul Gandhi sealed the deal further by stating that his Govt would ”restore sustainable mining… in a sustainable legal way…as soon as we come to power”, the clock was coming a full circle. The two distinct businesses – Coal import to and Iron Ore Mining and Export from Goa were connected and hurriedly used to replace a people-friendly business with a corporate-friendly one. It wasn’t a possibility but a coldly calculated ominous plan to wipe out Goa’s iron ore mining industry of the locals with an ‘outsider’ led coal import all through the decade of BJP’s rule in Goa.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those solely of the writer. The opinions and views expressed here do not reflect the views of Raisina Reports

Ajay Thakur
Ajay Thakur
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Ajay Thakur is a South-Asia based Communication Consultant and Political Communicator.