Under fire from all quarters for the massive scale of illegal mining in Goa, Chief Minister, Digmabar Kamat refutes allegations against him as he speaks to NDTV's Sreenivasan Jain in an exclusive interview.
Sreenivasan Jain: Mr Kamat is there illegal mining going on in the state of Goa?
Digambar Kamat: Wherever illegal mining has come to the notice of the Directorate, they have immediately taken action, cracked down on those people and even filed cases against them, sometimes confiscated the machinery, sometimes raised the royalty,. Under the MMRD Act, there is a provision to charge ten times the royalty so in 2-3 cases, they have charged ten times the royalty also. There were people who were extracting ore without any lease in their own property, in their own agricultural property, under the name of constructing some tank. They started digging then the things were brought to our notice.
Sreenivasan Jain: This may have happened a while back and it may have happened in bits and pieces but the worry is that it is happening in Goa at a much more rampant scale and that your Government is simply not able to do enough about it.
Digambar Kamat: See we have a monitoring committee headed by Additional Principal Conservator of Forest where all the representatives of all the bodies are there. They visit each and every lease, wherever any irregularities are brought to their notice they immediately write to the concerned departments to take action. We have a committee headed by the Chief Secretary, empowered Committee, which meets very often where there are representatives of all the agencies who participate in the meeting.
Sreenivasan Jain: But sir the question then is that when you have all these committees and these bodies, how is it then that there is a very strong feeling that there is rampant illegal mining going on unchecked?
Digambar Kamat: I really do not know what you mean by totally illegal mining. As I have said one illegal mining is that wherever somebody does something without any permission. Now that would be in some cases where there are violations, the concerned authorities or the concerned agencies which are supposed to monitor, they are supposed to take action.
Sreenivasan Jain: I'll give u some of the examples which are being raised by the Opposition parties. This is the list of all the mining that is going on through what is called raising contractors. These are all people who are mining on behalf of others. Now none of them have taken permission from the Central Government as they are meant to. This is the first illegality.
Digambar Kamat: No as far as the Directorate of Mining is concerned they always deal with the lessee. Always deal with the lessee. If lessee has some understanding with somebody and if somebody has allowed them to work, then it is based on their understanding. But as far as we are concerned, filing of returns, sending of notices, they always go to the lease holders.
Sreenivasan Jain: But if these lessees' have given over these mines, to operators without giving permission, isn't that under your purview?
Digambar Kamat: They have not transferred the leases, what I'm saying. If they have transferred the leases, then they have to come to the Directorate and we have to send it to Government of India. Whenever some people have approached for the transferring of leases, they have referred it to the Central Govt. In Central government's permission leases are transferred but if this some sort of arrangement is being done ...
Sreenivasan Jain: Well they're doing what is called the raising contractors; they're allowing them to mine on their behalf. Isn't that again something that requires permission?
Digambar Kamat: Their internal understanding with them probably. They have not put them on record with us.
Sreenivasan Jain: They have not put them on record?
Digambar Kamat: No.
Sreenivasan Jain: Isn't that something that should be put on record and shouldn't they be getting permission for that?
Digambar Kamat: No there is a provision also under the law. Under the law they can be permitted also. If somebody applies saying yes they want to sign an agreement with somebody then under some rule under which the permission can be given also.
Sreenivasan Jain: But sir they have not sought your permission. That's my point. If you see for example this list, you've got all the raising contractors, one Mr Haider Kassim Khan, mining is being done by Minescape. Mr Narvekar by Hardesh Ores, Noor Mohd is being done by Timblo. Like I said almost 40-50 mines are mined by these people without getting your permission.
Digambar Kamat: This as far as Directorate of Mines is concerned, we always deal with the lessees. Even today for all the practical purposes leases are standing in their name. We deal with them, we don't recognize them...others.
Sreenivasan Jain: But the others are doing the mining on their behalf.
Digambar Kamat: Must be, possible, they might have engaged them as sub-contractor or something.
Sreenivasan Jain: But isn't that something that requires your permission, your go ahead?
Digambar Kamat: Officially if they sign an agreement and approach the Directorate of Mine, then Directorate of Mines would have given them permission.
Sreenivasan Jain: But now that the evidence is so public, will this be something the Directorate will look up?
Digambar Kamat: I will check up. We will check if under that rule, permission can be granted.
Sreenivasan Jain: Sir the other illegality or violation is this list, that has the list of all those who have been overproducing, over their capacity. A number of mines, almost 48 mines in all. So there is yet another evidence of illegality and this list now as per your own figures comes to almost 7 million tonnes of ore which is in excess.
Digambar Kamat: See in Goa, mining was being done from the Portuguese times, and Goa has a history of low grade ore. There never used to be any demand and that is why people used to get ore from other places, other states, mix it up and try to sell. The reject used to remain here, sub grade ore used to remain here. So when it was brought to our notice while filing returns that they have exceeded their limits, immediately notices were served to them, asking them to produce the docs, that how much they have actually exported. Now some of them have filed the returns. Now what happens, somebody may have a limit of 2 lakhs and he has exported 8 lakhs, they are saying 6 lakhs has been exported from the dumps which was in their area lying there. And they have not exceeded the limit. They have paid the royalty on it. Since they have paid the royalty at the same rate, they have not filed separate returns. They are supposed to file separate returns. So we have now asked them to give details of their returns.
Sreenivasan Jain: But how can you verify whether they have extracted from the dumps or from their mine? How are you able to verify that?
Digambar Kamat: Last year we had done a survey. We had given ads in the newspapers and we have got a statistical data with respect to all the dumps existing in various leases. That statistics are available with us. Now also we have already told them you don't send any more dumps after this was brought to our notice unless we come out with a proper policy verifying that the dumps are there in your lease and how much dump, that also you have to show. And that is why now since we have plugged both the loopholes in both the ports, the exit points are sealed so anybody who wants to export from Anjuna ports or Panjim ports, first will have to produce all the source of ore. There also they will check up whether this party has exceeded their limit. Otherwise they will not allow him to export the ore. Actually in Panjim port we started it from last year. Marmugao port trust has also agreed. They also started implementing it from 1st of April.
Sreenivasan Jain: But do you also have the capacity to go and check all this on the ground because otherwise this is a form of self-declaration?
Digambar Kamat: There are various agencies involved in this, not only the Directorate of mine.
Sreenivasan Jain: I know but am only asking as far as the Directorate of mines is concerned?
Digambar Kamat: Directorate of mines, now we have recruited lots of staff. In fact we now intend to post people at the mines plus we are introducing RFID system now. Already we have finalized, most probably from his month or the next month it will start.
Sreenivasan Jain: What is your strength at the moment?
Digambar Kamat: Directorate must not be more than 60-70 people. We are recruiting something like 200 people.
Sreenivasan Jain: 60-70? I was told that was much smaller. Almost a dozen or so people.
Digambar Kamat: Technical officers were less. But now with new set up we will be recruiting around 200.
Sreenivasan Jain: But sir isn't that a little late, isn't that trying to board the stable after the horse has fled. Why wasn't this done earlier?
Digambar Kamat: This has started last 2-3 years only. Originally the strength was very less. Every year we went on adding. But as I said that there are various agencies that are supposed to check. IBM is also supposed to check. IBM prepares the mining plan; they fix up all the details. They see that mining is done as per IBM plan, approved plan. Environmental Clearance is approved and sanctioned by Minister of Environment & Forest.
Sreenivasan Jain: I'm not disputing that but then what happens is that it becomes a bit of buck passing. Each department is blaming the other.
Digambar Kamat: We are not passing the buck. I'm saying whenever permissions are given under particular provisions of law, the action which is to be initiated also under that act lies with the concerned authorities.
Sreenivasan Jain: When you talk of clearances, one of the things which is being raised about your own mandate as Minister of Mines is that you condoned a number of applicants who had applied late. Some of them you gave the go-ahead to and some of them you put under process. Those who claim that there is illegal mining claim that that is not legal because many of these lease holders don't exist technically. So how can you condone them or put them under process?
Digambar Kamat: In 1987 there was an Abolition of Concession Act. That was challenged by the mine-owners in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court admitted the petition and said that they may be allowed to do mining. Subsequently, the last date was fixed I think as 1998 to make applications. Subsequently an amendment was made to the rule and the State was given powers to condone the delay. The State had the powers till 2000. Many people went to the revisional authorities in Delhi because leases were rejected. The revisional authorities also said that the State has powers to condone the delay. And if it was applied before 2000 and you had not taken a decision then you have powers to condone the delay.
Sreenivasan Jain: But is that the basis on which you condone the delay? Because one allegation made is that one of the people whose delay you condoned is someone called Dinar Tarkar who is a Congress man and is said to be close to you. Was that a factor?
Digambar Kamat: There are 39 cases. We can go through them. The delay has been condoned not only today but right from the beginning. During my tenure there may be 8 to 10 cases. Most of the delays were condoned before.
Sreenivasan Jain: But in the case of Dinar Tarkar was there any political favor that was done?
Digambar Kamat: There is no political favor in any case. We have proceeded properly after obtaining legal opinion in each case.
Sreenivasan Jain: It's strictly on a legal basis?
Digambar Kamat: Strictly.
Sreenivasan Jain: One problem sir, one issue that is coming up again and again, is that apart from the fact that whether there is legality or not, there is also an ethical question. A large number of politicians, including some ministers in your government, are involved in mining activity. You have at least one cabinet minister who is directly involved as a mining contractor. The state party president is also doing contracting work for mining. A senior MLA is a miner. Isn't this a problem? Isn't this a conflict of interest?
Digambar Kamat: Mining had once been the backbone of Goa's economy. Even today, the direct and indirect employment in the mining sector is not less than 2 lakh people. A lot of industries, such as the barge industry and the transport industry depend on mining. Now, if there are some people who are associated with mining, as far as legality is concerned, I personally do not think there is anything wrong with it.
Sreenivasan Jain: I am not asking you about the legality. I am asking you more about the ethical aspect of it and the propriety of it.
Digambar Kamat: That each one has to think. I cannot comment on it. For example, there are many people who are involved in the transport business. If someone is involved in the transport business and gets transportation done. Somebody has got machines and does some machine work, I do not think it is wrong. As I said, mining was once the backbone of Goa's economy and many people were associated with mining here. It is a fact.
Sreenivasan Jain: One thing is that they are associated with mining. It's another that they've become members of the government or they are in the ruling combine as MLAs. That means that they are able to ascertain and determine policy on an area in which they are also deriving commercial benefit. That is the conflict of interest. Does that as the Chief Minister make you uncomfortable? Do you feel that that is avoidable?
Digambar Kamat: No. I have been telling them that as far as you do anything legally there should not be a problem.
Sreenivasan Jain: I am not talking about the mining. I am talking about the propriety of people who are in mining activity who are also in your government.
Digambar Kamat: Many of them are doing business right from the beginning, before they came into politics.
Sreenivasan Jain: So shouldn't they stop now? Now that they are in the government?
Digambar Kamat: That is left to them.
Sreenivasan Jain: It is up to you as Chief Minister. As Chief Minister are you worried that as more and more reports emerge about illegal mining in Goa, that your own position is at risk?
Digambar Kamat: I am not disturbed because as the Chief Minister or as the Minister of Mining I have said... in fact it was during my tenure that we initiated lots of action, right from putting up a moratorium, sealing the exit points, not giving a single mining lease or a prospecting license. We have tried to implement lots of things. I am not saying that we could implement everything, but we have tried to make a sincere effort. Suppose there are some irregularities or some violations then the Mines Minister should not be the only one held responsible and each department should take the appropriate responsibility.
Sreenivasan Jain: But in case there is that pressure that is built up? In case the Shah Commission finds that the scale of illegal mining is much more rampant. Would that make you directly accountable as the Mines Minister, someone who has been the Mines Minister for almost 12 years? Will that put that pressure on you to even step down if required?
Digambar Kamat: Let us see the Report. Why speculate before it comes?
Sreenivasan Jain: But do you feel that the monitoring will be much stricter? Because as the CAG Report mentions and it was quite an astonishing disclosure, it says that the Director of Mines accepts there was no mechanism to ascertain the correctness of the quantity exported. Government stated there appears to be a mis-match and requires proper inquiry to arrive at correct figures. This is quite an extra-ordinary admission, that the Department of Mines are themselves not able to ascertain the correctness of the quantity that was exported.
Digambar Kamat: That is what I was saying. What was the practice earlier? With the registration of traders coming in and people bringing in ore from Karnataka and Maharashtra you could directly go and export from Port Trust. They did not require NOC from the Minister of Mines. That is the reason which made us both the seal and exit points and come up with the notification.
Sreenivasan Jain: Isn't this a little too late?
Digambar Kamat: The spurt in the activity started in 2009.
Sreenivasan Jain: Well, the rise in global prices was in 2005.
Digambar Kamat: If you go through the records, in Goa it started in 2009.
Sreenivasan Jain: On the capping of the roads you mentioned. Would you also consider capping the output?
Digambar Kamat: Capping output will definitely be considered because we already have a draft mining policy. Draft mining policy was circulated to everybody. We've got lots of suggestions. We didn't finalize this because I was told in Delhi that the MMRD Act is being drastically amended. They are thinking of bringing 26% share of the profit to the villagers etc. Because of that I am holding that policy. They said that once the MMRD Act is amended, it has been cleared by the Group of Ministers; you incorporate all those in this policy too. As far as capping of roads are concerned...
Sreenivasan Jain: No, no so. Just to clarify on that...
Digambar Kamat: We will have to fix a capping capacity.
Sreenivasan Jain: You will have a capping capacity? Is there a number that you have in mind? At the moment it is about 40 million to 45 million tonnes that is being exported.
Digambar Kamat: It will also be linked to the carrying capacity of the roads. That is why we have said that Dr. Gangopadhyay is supposed to give us a report on the carrying capacity of all the mining roads. Suppose he says that on a particular day only 800 trips can be done, then we will link that to the production.
Sreenivasan Jain: So that is something you will consider.
Digambar Kamat: That is required also.
Sreenivasan Jain: About Parrikar's statement. He says that the PAC Report prima facie indicts you and several other Congress leaders. What do you have to say about that?
Digambar Kamat: Let the Report come out. PAC is supposed to submit the Report to the Assembly and we are supposed to give a report on the action taken.
Sreenivasan Jain: But he is already making such statements. That you are indicted in it.
Digambar Kamat: I will not make any statement on it.
Sreenivasan Jain: In conclusion, are you confident that your own position as Chief Minister is secure? Or are you worried that given the fact that today there is so much noise about corruption and probity in public life and that the Congress also has to manage its different political compulsions... It also is trying to target the BJP for corruption. Mr. Yedyuruppa was removed because of the mining scandal there. Are you worried that your own position is secure or not?
Digambar Kamat: If I have not done anything wrong, I shall not be worried.
Sreenivasan Jain: And you are confident that you have not done anything wrong?
Digambar Kamat: I have not done anything wrong.
Sreenivasan Jain: So you are very much here to stay?
Digambar Kamat: God will decide.
Sreenivasan Jain: God or high command? Or is that the same thing? Thanks very much indeed sir for talking to us so candidly.