On 5th October 2012, iron mining was banned by the Supreme Court of India in the state of Goa. The former Portuguese colony is divided into a prosperous coastal strip and a mountainous area, belonging to the biologically rich Western Ghats. Iron mining is done in the area between the coast and the Western Ghats which are protected in theory by small contiguous national parks or wildlife sanctuaries.
The iron mining ban in Goa is remarkable because open cast production was about 50 million tons of low grade iron per year in 2010 and 2011 (worth 4000 million US$), transported to jetties by a fleet of perhaps 20 000 trucks (owned by small contractors, often employing drivers from outside the state). The iron was loaded on barges at jetties and taken to the ships at the harbour at Mormugao. Most of the iron went to China. The huge dumps of mining overburden invade cultivated fields and forests, and the tailings are deposited in excavated pits with water. Mining produces large amounts of wastewater for washing the mineral. Such scars are very visible in the landscape. Although total rainfall may reach 4000 mm per year, there is a long rainless period with high temperatures before the monsoon, with scarcity of water for the coastal area and for farmers. Therefore the overuse and pollution of water by the mines are important issues.
The mining companies are of different size. The main one is SESA Goa, that in Codli produced 7 million tons of iron per year. SESA Goa belonged initially to Mitsui from Japan, and it was bought by Vedanta from London. Almost all other mines in Goa are Indian-owned and private.
Goa's population is about 1.5 million living in 3000 sq.km. There is a mining lobby (The Herald, 22 Dec. 2012) that sees in iron exports the economic mainstay. Open questions are how much of the revenue from mining remains in Goa, what the local fiscal dues should be, who pays for the socio-environmental liabilities (groundwater overuse and surface water pollution, encroachment on farming or protected areas, air pollution)? The chief minister of the state, Manohar Parrikar, of BJP, accepted without complaint the ban imposed by the Supreme Court after the reports of the Justice Shah Commission came out. While in opposition he chaired the Public Accounts Committee, and gave to the press its provisional conclusions claiming that Goa government ministers were involved in illegal mining (Frontline, 28 (23), Nov. 2011). Afterwards he came back to power on a platform of cleaning up the environment, attacking the corruption nexus, and supporting the tourist sector. In 2013 he supported iron ore mining.
Goa is one place where the new AAP party is very likely to grow, in 2014.
The mining ban will have positive effects on traffic accidents and on other aspects of health. Before the mining ban there were complaints from tribals and poor farmers. In Cavorem in 2011 they mobilized against atrocities by mine owners and police, and against the destruction of fields by mining. But this is not only an 'environmentalism of the poor and indigenous'. Indeed, the tourist and building interests in the coastal area support the ban on iron mining.
In Goa (as also in Karnataka and Odisha), given the public scandals on iron mining, the Justice M.B. Shah Commission of Inquiry for Illegal Mining of Iron Ore and Manganese was set up November 2010. Its task was to determine the fiscal losses from illegal mining, also its negative effects on forest wealth, the damage to environment including water pollution, and the prejudice to livelihood and other rights of tribals and others. Then on 5th October 2012 the Supreme Court of India relying on the findings of the Shah Commission, stopped the mining operations and transport in all iron ore leases after a petition had been submitted by the Goa Foundation (an environmental action group led by Claude Alvares). Also in Bellary, in the state of Karnataka, iron mining was banned.
In 2013, Chinese demand for iron ore has fallen while world supply is plentiful.
Should the ban in Goa be permanent, or should there be a 'resource cap' at 10 million tons per year? At the end of 2013, the Supreme Court nominated experts to a panel that in 2014 would fix an annual cap on iron ore mining, keeping in view the principles of inter-generational equity and environment-carrying capacity.