New Delhi: A petition was filed on Wednesday in the Supreme Court to restrain the resumption of iron and manganese ore mining in Goa amid a judicial commission estimating a loss of Rs 35000 crore to the exchequer due to illegal mining there since 2000.

The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition filed by an NGO, Goa Foundation, also sought setting up of a special probe agency to investigate the alleged loss to the state revenue, the illegalities committed in mining activities and the connivance of public servants in abetting the same.

The NGO, filing the petition through advocate Prashant Bhushan, referred to the report of Justice (Retd) MB Shah Commission and alleged that "iron ore worth Rupees 35,000 crore was plundered by the mining companies, committing theft of Government property."

It said the Commission's report tabled in Parliament on September 7 stated that "illegal activities in mining were underway since the year 2000" and that all the 90 mines in the state were functioning without the mandatory permission from the National Board of Wild Life (NBWL) and 33 of these were within 1.5 km of the wildlife sanctuaries, well inside the eco-sensitive zone notified by the NBWL.

"The failure of the state to control the illegal mining has led to large-scale destruction of both the forest and non-forest land and as such has adversely affected the livelihood of local people, especially the rural poor," the petition said.

It said due to lack of co-ordination between Department of Mines and Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB), the mines were set up in forest and eco-sensitive areas, close to the streams and rivers, causing severe air and water pollution, degradation of the environment and the loss of bio-diversity.

The NGO said the Directorate of Mines and Geology on September 10 this year had temporarily suspended all mining operations till October 2012, but the suspension did not affect the trade and transportation of ore already mined and existing in the lease hold area, in transit or stores or stocked on the jetties. Referring to the Shah Commission's report, the NGO alleged that the mining leases were renewed without prior approval under the Forest Conservation Act 1980.

It said "the Director of Mines and Geology and his officials intentionally did not visit or inspect the leased mines for past 5-6 years, thereby knowingly enabling wide-spread illegal mineral extraction and illegal trade in these publicly-owned resources."

The NGO further said the Commission had found several mining leases being favoured by the Goa State Pollution Control Board which allowed them to mine without consents under the Air and Water Acts for varying periods of time, sometimes extending upto six years.

"The Commission, in fact, has declared that illegal mining in all modes is being conducted in the state of Goa and that excess production of iron ore has affected the environment, eco-systems and has polluted the water and air.

"Millions of tonnes of ore have been removed from ecologically sensitive areas causing immense damage to the ecosystems and the public health," the NGO said adding that "not a single mine in Goa have been found to be legal or working in legal manner by the Commission which is an unprecedented situation."
It said "in view of the magnitude of the violations, the large-scale, illegal and rampant mining and the complete failure of the respondents (Union of India and others), the so-called steps taken by the state of Goa and the Ministry of Environment are not enough to curb the menace...

"In any event, the respondents themselves are guilty of violations and had participated in permitting the illegalities to continue. Therefore, any steps taken by them are merely eyewash and of no consequence."