New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday questioned the Centre for granting environment clearance certificates to mining firms, involved in the extraction of iron ore in Goa, allegedly without proper documentation and verifications.
"How you (Ministry of Environment and Forests) have given Environment Clearance (EC) certificates to them (mining companies). Have you considered the cumulative effect (of granting EC certificates) on the environment," a bench headed by Justice AK Patnaik said.
The court said that it would like to hear the response of Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran on behalf of Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on the issue before hearing the Goa government.
The forest bench, on October 5, last year, had halted the mining operations in all the 90 mines in Goa considering the Justice MB Shah Commission report that had indicted almost all the miners saying the illegal extraction of iron ore during last 12 years had caused a loss of Rs 35,000 crore to the state exchequer.
The bench, also comprising comprising justices SS Nijjar and FM Ibrahim Kalifulla, today started hearing the PIL filed by the Goa Foundation, an environmental action group, after Sesa Goa, a Vedanta group firm and country`s largest producer and exporter of iron ore in the private sector, recently sought early dicision on the issue.
Prashant Bhushan, during his day-long arguments on behalf of the foundation, highlighted various alleged violations of law and other regulatory measures by the mining firms in Goa and sought that the mining leases, which expired in 2007, be not renewed and be rather auctioned.
"Environment Clearance Certificates, issued by MoEF, were are issued without proper documentation and verifications," he said adding that they (ECCs) are presently suspended and now be cancelled.
"There is connivance between mine operators, politicians and bureaucrats: the criminal nexus of these parties has been used to enhance private gains and defraud the State exchequer," he said, citing the Shah panel report and sought a probe by the SIT, CBI or by Goa Lok Ayukta".
Bhushan said the probe and subsequent prosecution should
be supervised by the apex court.
He also cited the apex court judgements in the 2G case to drive home the point that natural resources, if given to private corporations for commercial exploitation, be auctioned to ensure common good of the citizens.
Citing the Shah panel`s findings, he said the doctrine that the state is the trustee of natural resources and such resources should not be allowed to be "plundered" to ensure the "intergenerational equity".
"There exists a large mineral ore asset belonging to the State of Goa and its citizens amounting to 927.172 million tonnes (MT) (as per IBM data in Shah Commission report) of which 350.000 MT is already extracted over several years, while 577.172 MT is left, valued at Rs 3 lakh crores.
"This asset will exhaust in nine years. Its extraction therefore needs to be spaced out over a hundred years, on grounds of intergenerational equity and to ensure the extraction does not immobilize the environment," he said.
This court may also fix a cap or ceiling on the extraction of iron ore, he said.
"The court may direct renewal of leases which have since expired (21.11.2007) to be subject to auction for realising maximum value to the exchequer," he said, adding that the leases for mines, operating in within the wildlife sanctuaries, be identified and cancelled.