HALT: All mining activity will come to a halt by noon on March 15. This follows the Centre’s rejection of any ordinance overruling the Supreme Court order making second renewals illegal
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. And a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when Goa’s oldest industry which was its backbone for many decades was all set to wind up. For a Saturday following the week when Goa became part of the United States of America. For a Saturday following the week when there were total uncertainty over the budget. For a Saturday following the week when the educational department seemed to be determined not to permit the opening of any more English private primary schools even if it means denying permission to other medium primary schools.
Mining BITES THE DUST
AND a few stray thoughts on the imminent closure of Goa’s mining industry. The Supreme Court had rejected the state government order renewing the leases of the existing 89 mines for a second time. The Supreme Court has insisted that the mines should be auctioned and that the existing mines should be shut down by 12 noon on March 15th.
An all-party delegation of Goa MLAs which included the speaker Promod Sawant, the second in command in the cabinet Sudin Dhavalikar and the former chief minister Pratap Singh Rane went to Delhi to buy some more time for the mine owners who had financed the elections since Liberation. Significantly, Vijai Sardesai, the president of the Goa Forward (GF), and Churchill Alemao, the Independent MLA, who have both been supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were not part of the delegation.
The delegation could only meet Piyush Goel, the transport minister and Nitin Gadkari. They did not get an appointment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The delegation which had gone to Delhi seeking a Central ordinance overruling the Supreme Court order for the mines to shut down by January 15th was rebuffed by Goel. Goel allegedly told members of the delegation that if they did not obey the Supreme Court order they were also likely to go to jail along with the mine owners they were supporting. They were also told that the Goa government should start preparing to auction the mining leases as per the Supreme Court judgment and not convert the mining in Goa into another coal scam. It will be recalled that many senior political leaders, including the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, were charged with allotting coal leases out of turn causing huge loses to the government. Of course, an auction will be beneficial to the Adani’s and others who have been
THOUGH Nilesh Cabral the Curchorem BJP MLA which is the heart of the mining belt tried to minimize the damage, the fact remains that there is no remedy. Cabral has been putting on a brave face and claiming that Goel made the statement because he had not been properly briefed on the mining issue in Goa. Cabral also claimed that Nitin Gadkari would solved the problems of the mine owners. Perhaps it might have made a difference if the minister for mines Manohar Parrikar had been part of the delegation. None of the members of the all-party delegation except perhaps for Sudin Dhavalikar have any influence in Delhi.
The very fact that the department of mines has issued orders asking the mining industry to start removing the machinery from the sites and stop all extraction activity by 6 pm on March 13th would suggest that mining activity will have to complete stop by the March 15th as specified by the Supreme Court. The order of the Department of Mines is very clear that transportation of ore from companies which have given a second lease renewal should have stop by 6 pm on March 14th 2018. All kinds of immovable machinery is also required to be taken out by March 15th 2018 afternoon. To compound the problems of the mining industry, the Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) has decline to amend or grant any consent to operate to the mining units. The mining industry has however been permitted to export ore that has already been extracted subject to the supervision of the mining authorities.
The closure of the mining industry will deprive the state of a huge amount of revenue by way of lease renewal fees and royalty. In fact the Goa government may have to refund to the Mining industry the second renewal charges and the contributions by mine owners they have taken for the welfare of the people affected.
Mining of iron ore which had reached a peak of 50 million tonnes in the run up to the Chinese Olympics when the price of ore went to $200 per tonnes, had come down to less than 15 million tonnes last year. This year, the total ore extracted is not expected to touch even 10 million tonnes in spite of last minute efforts to extract and export as much as possible.
BESIDES the loss on revenue to the government the complete halt to all mining activity will have a cascading impact on all those who are dependent on mining. The number of people actually working on extracting ore may or may not be very high as during the last two decades mining has been largely mechanised. However it is estimated that there are over 10,000 trucks involved in the transport of ore from the pit head to the loading point in the river to the barges.
Traditionally ore has been transported by barges from the nearest river point to the MPT giving the industry a big cost advantage. Both the owners and the drivers of the trucks will be rendered unemployed. Many of the truck owners had taken huge loans from the banks to buy more trucks when the price of ore shot up. Now many of them stand to risk losing their trucks. Besides trucks barge owners and those who supplied machinery and equipment on lease to the mine owners will also be affected by the stoppage of mining activity. Indeed the economy of the mining areas such as Curchorem Valpoi, Bicholim and other areas will be badly affected. This is because the mining industry had also created job opportunities for garages to repair the trucks, small restaurants which were patronised by the employees and even goldsmiths as during the boom time the truck owners converted the surplus cash into gold ornaments. With the present state of the finances of the Goa Government and with the finance minister away for at least two months the mining-dependent who will now be jobless cannot expect any relief from Manohar Parrikar.
GOA IN USA
AND a few stray thoughts on Goa becoming part of Donald Trump’s United States of America. This is on the assumption that the State is where the chief minister is. Since the chief minister has moved to the United States for treatment and insists that he will carry out his duties from there, Goa in practical terms will now be governed from the United States.
This is an action replay of the Portuguese colonial group when the governor general of Goa used to take his orders from the Portuguese president. It may be recalled that immediately after Liberation on the formation of the first government by the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) it was political leaders from Maharashtra who were calling all the shots.
The Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar who left for the United States on Wednesday has made it clear that he has no intention of appointing a deputy. He has further stipulated that even on release of finance of `5 crore in the case of the cabinet committee, or 50 lakhs by individual Cabinet Ministers, his approval would have to be taken. The agenda for the meeting of the panel comprising Sudin Dhavalikar, Vijai Sardesai and Francis D’Souza, who will be running the government, will be prepared by the chief secretary and the principle secretary to the chief minister, obviously in consultation with Parrikar.
In a note to the governor the chief minister has specified that important matters concerning departments which are directly under the chief minister can be placed before the panel, but the panels recommendation will be subject to the approval of the chief minister. So much so, the panel does not have any real power as they cannot even decide on any issue relating to ministries under the chief minister, and since the chief minister is in charge of as many as 20 departments, this means that the state will have no government till Parrikar comes back.
Parrikar obviously is not concerned over any delay in taking decisions on important matters. His note to the Governor states that no order shall be issued as regards any major or important matters concerning portfolios of finance, home, personnel, and general administration until the same are approved by the chief minister.
SECOND IN COMMAND
EVEN in the US, if the president is hospitalised, automatically the vice president takes charge. In the case of the US the position of president is very important as he is the only personal who has control over use of nuclear weapons. So much so, there is a senior armed services officer who always is with the President with a suitcase which is traditionally called the ‘football’ even though the briefcase is not shaped like a football. It has all the codes that are necessary to launch a nuclear attack.
Being president or prime minister, or even chief minister of a state in India, is a full time job which also requires that the holder of the office is fully fit all the time that he is functioning as the chief minister.
We still do not know officially the nature of the illness of the chief minister which has required him to be taken to the US. From our own experience we can testify that in any major treatment there are times when you are not conscious because anaesthesia has been given.
Similarly, people given radiation or chemotherapy may experience what is often called a chemo-fog — a term used to describe chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction — and may take some time to recover complete control of their senses.
So it is possible that there may be moments or long periods of times during his treatment when the chief minister may not be available or capable of taking a decision.
What happens if there is a natural calamity like a tsunami or earthquake? Or a political calamity in which the GF and the MGP withdraw support to be BJP government? Apparently Parrikar has made provision for such a contingency as in his letter to the governor he ah specified that if and when necessary he would nominate a minister to chair the cabinet meeting to take the decision needed. The former law minister and Congress leader Ramakanth Khalap has remarked that the three member panel cannot be a substitute for the chief minister and in the absence of a deputy the state will be in suspended animation — the expression used when president’s rule in declared in a state. Under presidency rule the Legislative Assembly is dissolved and the governor runs the state on the advice of the Home Ministry.
AND a few stray thoughts on the effect of the absence of the Finance Minister Manohar Parrikar on the implementation of the provisions of the budget. Though the chief minister who is also the finance minister returned to Goa from the Lilavati Hospital and ‘presented’ the budget before he left for the US, it was only a partial budget. The chief minister did not present the complete budget — the highlight of which traditionally is the tax proposals. No government or government department can function without money. The money that is needed to even maintain existing schemes and implement already approved development projects like the Super speciality block of the GMC comes from the taxes that the residents of Goa pay.
Parrikar has not spelt out what the new tax proposals are. In every budget there are details of both existing means of mobilising revenue and new taxes sought to be imposed. It may be recalled that in one of his first budgets presented during an earlier tenure as chief minister, Parrikar had taken the very popular decision of completely doing away with the value added tax on petrol and diesel. Those were the good old days when petrol and diesel were the cheapest in Goa, almost as cheap as the daru which attracts all the tourists.
Unfortunately for Goa, in the absence of Manohar Parrikar in Delhi as defence minister, his successor Laxmikant Parsekar restored the complete VAT on petroleum products. Petrol and diesel are two items which do not come under GST. While restoring VAT on petrol and diesel, Parsekar had promised that he will ensure that the cost of petrol will not exceed `60. All the harassed commuters of Goa who have to have their own transport as they cannot rely on public transport were hoping for some relief in the budget. The worst part of the fuel prices is that they change on a day to day basis in line with the international prices of crude oil. But they never go down and have exceeded `70 per litre at times.
Also budgets are looked forward to, as new schemes are introduced. In previous budgets Parrikar had introduced a number of new schemes like the Ladli Laxmi, Griha Aadhar and even the famous pre-employment training scheme under which unemployed youth got `5,000 a month. In the 10 minutes that Parrikar spent in the Legislative Assembly he mentioned a scheme to pay `3,000 to the unemployed for acquiring skills, but its implementation may take another three months since he will not let anybody else take any decisions.
NO MORE SCHOOLS?
AND a last stray thought for yet another Saturday. For some strange reason the Education Department is unwilling to approve even new regional medium primary schools. There are more than a hundred applications pending with the Education Department for Marathi medium and English medium primary schools. There are also applications pending for Urdu medium primary schools and even for a Sindhi primary medium school. But the director for education apparently feels that the applications for Konkani and Marathi schools are a mask for starting English medium primary schools. It has of course become very difficult to start new English medium primary schools even by private managers as the government is afraid that they may demand grants like the ones given to the Church-run schools. And at least in theory the chances of admission to an aided school depends on how close to the school we live.