Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on Tuesday announced the possible winding up of a controversial government committee appointed last year to probe illegal mining in Goa.
Parrikar also said that the process of lifting restrictions enforced by the state government on mining activity had begun and over two dozen mines had already been cleared by the mines ministry.
The chief minister was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a media function here.
“The government may wind up the Khandeparkar Committee now. The decision will be taken by the cabinet,” Parrikar said.
The Goa government had last year appointed a committee headed by retired high court judge R.M.S. Khandeparkar to verify the findings of a union mines ministry appointed judicial commission headed by Justice M.B. Shah, which exposed a Rs.35,000 crore illegal mining scam involving politicians, bureaucrats and mining companies.
The Khandeparkar Committee, which been tasked with verifying charges levelled by the Shah Commission, has not had a single sitting since its appointment mid-last year, a fact which had been criticised by both the opposition as well as civil society groups.
Parrikar on Tuesday suggested that the Khandeparkar committee was no longer relevant with the Crime Branch Monday filing a first information report (FIR) in the mining case and beginning a criminal investigation and the newly appointed Lokayukta tasked with establishing the exact losses which the mining scam had caused the state exchequer.
Parrikar also said that the state government’s restrictions on mining were in the process of being removed on a case-to-case basis.
“We have cleared 24 to 30 mines. Nearly eight more are left. They should be examined on a case-to-case basis over the next few days,” the chief minister said.
Mining in Goa has been stopped due to three separate orders last year.
While the state mines ministry headed by Parrikar had imposed restrictions on all mining activity pending verification of documents, a subsequent order by the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests had withdrawn all environment clearances to Goa’s mines in what was perceived as a game of one-upmanship between the BJP-led state government and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the centre.
On the heels of these two orders, the Supreme Court in October banned all mining in Goa following a petition filed by lawyer Prashant Bhushan and a local NGO, with the latter claiming that not much was being done to bring those involved in the Rs.35,000 crore illegal mining scam to book.
The clearance granted to mines by the state government will result in no mining activity, with the two other restrictions of the central government and the Supreme court still in place.
Parrikar also said that nearly 118 mining leases, which had not been mined over decades, had been cancelled by the mines ministry for not complying with renewal formalities.
In all, Goa has had over 700 mining leases, out of which only 90 odd mines have been functional, until the ban came in force.