Mining ban turns Goa into a minefield; Parrikar to meet PM Modi soon

According to industry estimates, about 200,000 people are dependent on mining in Goa
The illness of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, 62, coupled with the ban on mining, has thrown the politics of Goa, already in turmoil, into further disarray.

The ban had once hit the economy hard  in the past for more than 100 days.

These are trying times for the BJP, along with its allies, and the government because things are not moving.

Parrikar was back in June after being in the US for three months for treatment. He is suffering from a pancreas ailment and not able to perform his duties full-time.

Iron ore mining has been a major economic activity in the state, where people are also dependent on tourism and agriculture. Those affected by the ban are protesting.

Parrikar’s fourth stint as chief minister, which began in March last year, has become challenging, to put it mildly, with problems galore amid a failing economy, job losses, weakening finances, growing public debt and stalled projects, coupled with an atmosphere of uncertainty. The illness of the chief minister has piled on the agony.

The Narendra Modi wave in May 2014 had won the BJP both the Lok Sabha seats comfortably and soon Parrikar became the first Cabinet minister from Goa. He handled the defence portfolio. 

As an old timer in Goa put it: “The BJP in Goa means Parrikar and its government in Goa means Parrikar,” implying that the chief minister is the ‘face’ of the party and the government in the state. Only his charisma has attracted allies but there is no one else for the party to fall back upon.

Despite the crisis, things are stuck for the past few months, with the opposition asking whether there really is any government in the state.

After the Assembly polls early last year, Parrikar became chief minister despite the BJP failing to secure a majority in the house. Parrikar, who was then defence minister, outsmarted the Congress, which had emerged as the single-largest party with 17 seats in the 40-member House. The chief minister managed to win the support of two regional parties, besides the backing of two Independents, before the Congress could stake claim to power.

But the situation started turning worse after the February 7 judgement, in which the Supreme Court had quashed the second renewal of iron ore mining leases given to 88 companies in Goa in 2015.

The sole motive of the companies behind the commercial activity was profit maximisation and no social purpose was attached to it, the court had held.

According to industry estimates, about 200,000 people are dependent on mining in Goa. It provides 60,000 direct jobs and indirect employment to the rest in the state, whose population is around 1.8 million.

Goa exported nearly 50 million tonnes before the Shah Commission in 2012 exposed a Rs 350 billion scam, implicating nearly all major mining houses.

Iron ore extraction in Goa was subsequently halted by a series of prohibitions by the state and central governments and eventually through a final ban the Supreme Court ordered in 2012.

However, a BJP-led coalition government in 2014-15 renewed the mining leases in favour of the same mining companies accused by the Shah Commission of illegalities.

Reports said considering the seriousness of the situation, Parrikar will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon to discuss the issue.

With the Lok Sabha polls just 10 months away, the BJP is putting on a brave face. The party’s national vice-president, Avinash Rai Khanna, who is in charge of party affairs in Goa, insists that Modi and Parrikar would resolve matters by bringing in an amendment or ordinance to settle the ban issue. But the Congress’s A Chella Kumar is not hopeful. The AICC secretary, who looks after party affairs in Goa, alleges that there is no government in the state as the chief minister has “not been able to control the situation”. 

Former Union Minister Ramakant Khalap says the chief minister has got caught in his own trap on the mining issue. While BJP leaders claim they are addressing the deficiencies in the organisation, their detractors in the ruling party say the way the government is working is a recipe for disaster.

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