Curtorim Congress legislator Alex Reginaldo Lourenco’s demand that mining leases should be auctioned annually may be presented as an effort towards equitable distribution of natural wealth amongst the people of Goa. This may sound to be in keeping with the spirit of a welfare state. But is it workable?
To begin with, let us imagine a new bidder succeeds in getting a lease for the year. How does he go about operating the lease? He needs to acquire mining machinery, recruit personnel for all levels, train them, and then do the actual extraction. He stands no chance of making any money for three successive years, specially considering the steep costs of machinery. If he gets a lease for at least five or six years, only then can he begin getting net profits after wiping off the losses of the first three years.
Annual lease can be viable only for existing players, who already have the expertise and the experience, besides the required resources. That means, Lourenco’s well-meaning prescription will benefit only existing operators presently raking in profits. In no way it will help new entrants.
If daylight robbery of State resources was going on. The actual area where reforms are needed are, proper accounting of every ton of ore extracted, proper tracking of the transport from pit head to port, and the renewal of licences. That there may be a time limit of reasonable duration for the licences, no one will dispute. Renewals should be allowed only for those who have not violated the terms of licence.
If the Legislatator/s are serious about promoting new entrants, the right thing to do would be for the State to bear the cost of acquiring and maintaining the machinery and making the preliminary operations up to the de-enveloping of the core ore area. Then, licence the excavation and stock piling operations. Even, transportation to docks and ports should be treated with separate contracts. The State can optionally be the exporter also. This will avoid dodging of taxes and royalty, which we have seen happening in the years gone by.
The perception that mining lobby had become too powerful to be tamed by the Government of the day has never sought to be dispelled. No one should be allowed to display crass disrespect for law of the land. Sensitivity towards environmental safeguards is also non-negotiable. Any policy reforms should keep these aspects in mind.
The Curtorim MLA has warned that if these mining leases are renewed without auctioning for 20 years, it would be the biggest scam of the century. We agree with his point of view. The chief minister and BJP must therefore remember that the party has been elected to power on the plank of opposition to corruption entrenched within the Congress specifically in the mining sector. If Parrikar now breaches the trust the electorate has reposed in him, it would not just make a poor commentary on his entire character of having “zero tolerance to corruption” which he claims, but a slap on the very people who gave him the mandate, out of disgust over the perceived corruption of the Congress. He may try to justify his lopsided, mining lobby-slanted claims, by offering various Laxmi and DSS schemes, but his welfare-oriented schemes will never be acceptable as a good cover over the biased treatment given to the powerful mining lobby of the past. The Supreme Court is clear that any new mining lease must be auctioned. The Government must follow the directive to a T.