When the issue was raised earlier before the Bombay high court, the petitions were dismissed on a technical ground
The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought explanation from the Goa government and several mining companies, including Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta, on four petitions challenging the renewal of 89 mining leases against the judgment of the apex court last year.
A Bench headed by judge J S Khehar issued notice to state government asking it to file response by December 1. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled December 9.
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The Supreme Court, when it lifted the mining ban in Goa in April last year, had also set a clause that all mining licences expired in 2007 will not be entitled to automatic renewal and will have to re-apply. This meant companies would have to go through the entire approval procedure all over again.
However, according to the petitioner and environmentalist Goa Foundation headed by activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, the state government has bypassed the apex court order and allowed miners to operate without auction or competitive bidding.
By flouting the court order and environment regulations, the government, which holds natural resources such as minerals, has conferred largesse on profit-maximising companies, ignoring public welfare and environment considerations, said the petitioner.
The 18-month ban on iron ore mining in Goa was imposed in September 2012 on a petition filed by Bhushan after a judicial commission, headed by judge M B Shah, exposed a Rs 35,000-crore scam involving top mining companies, politicians and bureaucrats.
The ban on iron ore mining in Goa had closed a major foreign exchange earnings option for the state, compelling major private mining companies such as Vedanta (then Sesa Sterlite) to even take salary cuts at its iron ore operations as it reported nil revenues quarter after quarter from the business.
Although the apex court lifted the ban last year, it placed a cap of 20 million tonnes on annual production from these mines. Following this, Vedanta, in August, resumed operations in Goa, but has been granted approval for total extraction of only 5.5 million tonnes. Prior to the ban, iron ore production from the whole of Goa was 45 million tonnes a year with Vedanta producing 16 million tonnes. The Goan low-grade ore, which mainly found its way to China had placed India as the third largest iron ore exporter in the world after Australia and Brazil.