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BW Businessworld

Clean-Up That Can Pay Off

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Rocked by increasing criticism from all quarters, Goa under its new chief minister Manohar Parrikar is on a drive to set things straight. One of the steps proposed includes auctioning of low-quality iron ore lying in dumps — generated over several decades — across the state. Rough estimates peg it at between 640 million tonnes and 750 million tonnes. The Indian Bureau of Mines is working on the final figure.

In the past, the technology to absorb the waste was not available. Of late, with countries such as China blending low-grade ore with high-grade iron ore, a small market has opened up. If the Goa Minerals Policy 2012 comes through, the state government would be able to sell the iron ore dumped on government land.

However, for all its positive intentions, the Parrikar government's suggestions have received a lukewarm response from the central government. "Certain guidelines need to be followed before any auctioning takes place," says an official in the ministry of mines. "The dumps belong to the lessee... they cannot be auctioned before the lease lapses." He stresses the necessity to have a clear policy, especially for movement and handling, before commercial selling is allowed.

Prasanna Acharya, director of the Directorate of Mines and Geology in Goa, says the government has not taken a decision. While the policy is yet to be finalised, environment activists fear that commercial use of the dumps will aggravate both environment damage and illegal mining in the state. There are questions on the ethics of selling waste generated at least partly by illegal mining. But pollution from the dumps to areas nearby as well as water bodies is proving to be a major hazard. "If another company is willing to buy the waste, it can only be a good thing — beneficial both commercially as well as environmentally," says a member of Goa's mining industry. He concedes there needs to be a large amount of accountability.

Goan authorities are planning many measures to curb illegal mining. For instance, a new website would provide an interface between leaseholders and the government. The portal would enable generation of permits, payment of dues to the government as well as filing of returns, thereby increasing efficiency. The auditing for it, which was to be completed last week, is expected to be done in another week.

Operators would now need to get no-objection certificates prior to loading. Monitoring minute details such as the number of trucks, loading capacity versus actual loading, routes of transportation (for ore going beyond lease area) are already in place. The suggestion for capping exports at 40 million tonnes is awaiting finalisation by the government. As a part of the clean-up drive, 460 trading licences were revoked. Of them, 45 have been revalidated. These are mostly leaseholders and corporations recommended by the government. In 2010-11, there were 89 operational mines. "There are not more than 44 mines operational mines at the moment," confirms Acharya.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 23-07-2012)