SUPREME COURT REJECTS APPEAL TO LIFT MINING BAN!

REJECTED : Besides rejecting the Goa government’s appeal to withdraw the suspension of mining, the plea of Vedanta which owns Sesa Goa was also rejected

By Rajan Narayan

AND a few stray thought for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the Supreme Court rejected the petitions filed by the Goa government and Vedanta to review the judgement passed in February 2018 cancelling all the existing 88 mining leases. For a Saturday following the week when there was an action replay of the secondary school results. For a Saturday following the week when the Congress High Command summoned all the Congress MLAs to New Delhi. For a Saturday following the week when reports emerged that the Union Home Minister is using the Pegasus spyware for surveillance of electronic communication. For a Saturday following the week when the State government is getting ready to re-open tourism in Goa in view of hospitality industry demands.

PETITION REJECTED BY SC

AND a few stray thoughts on Supreme Court rejecting the petitions filed by the Goa government and Vedanta to review the judgements passed in February 2018 cancelling all the existing 88 mining leases. The Supreme Court dismissed the petitions not only on the merits of the judgement but because it was a clear case of bench hunting. The rule is that any appeal against an order of the Supreme Court has to be filed within 30 days of the day of judgement. The review petition by the State were filed in 2019.
Vedanta Limited, one of the mining companies, also filed its review petition in the months of August 2020. When a Bench of the Supreme Court or the High Court gives a verdict against the government or a private company, the parties found guilty prefer not to file a review petition within the stipulated 30 days. This is because of the fear that the review petition may come up before the same judges, in this case Judge Madan B Lokur and Judge Deepak Gupta. So the government of Goa and Vedanta waited till the two judges retired from the Supreme Court on December 30, 2018 and May 6 2020.
The delay was deliberate to attempt to file the review petition before a bench which might be better disposed towards reviewing the cancellation of mining leases. Unfortunately for the government of Goa the Supreme Court saw through the game of bench hunting indulged in by the Goa government and Vedanta. The cases were dismissed by the new Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice M R Shah, on the grounds of the statute of limitations. This means that the government and Vedanta did not file the review petitions within the 30 days as required but waited for the judges who had cancelled the licences to retire before filling the petitions. The SC bench which dismissed the renewal petitions pointed out that the second renewal of the mining leases was unduly hasty.
The Supreme Court also observed that a very large number of renewals were granted after a comparatively brief period. There were many mining leases which had not been functioning for decades after liberation. The leases which were granted by the Portuguese colonial regime were converted into mining concessions by the Ministry of Mining in 1987. The lease holders were given a period of six months to convert their concessions into leases. At that time many of them were not interested as there was no demand for iron ore and the prices of ore in the international market were very low.
However, when the Chinese Olympics were coming up the demand for iron ore shot up and along with it the price and mining became very attractive anew. The Chinese had the technology to make the steel necessary for the stadiums being built for the Olympics even from the low grade Goan ore. It is in this context that successive chief ministers including Pratap Singh Rane, Digambar Kamat and Manohar Parrikar renewed dormant leases and concessions even though the time period for doing so had longs since expired.
Cases are pending against the former chief ministers also for retrospectively converting the concessions into leases. The only option now before the Goa government is to auction the 88 mining leases as directed by the Supreme Court. Other states like Karnataka and Orissa where the leases were similarly cancelled have already started the auction process. The Goa government is also considering setting up a Mining Corporation to undertake the operations of the mines. Attempts are also being made to locate new areas for manganese ore as it is believed that there are large unexploited reserves in south Goa.

AS HIGH AS 99.4%!

AND a few stray thoughts on an action replay of the secondary school results. The percentage of passes was as high as 99.4%. The percentage of girls was as high as 99.7% while that of boys was 99%. As in the case of the secondary schools results of the 18,085 students who were assessed only 75 students failed. The pass percentage is 10% more than last year’s result. The comedy does not end with the announcement of the result. Those who failed are eligible for another opportunity by appearing for the supplementary exam soon. The decision of the secondary and higher secondary board to give the benefit of doubt to the overwhelming majority of the students might be excusable in the light of the covid-19 situation. But the 12 standard exam is far more important than the secondary school exam. This is because it is the higher secondary exam which holds the key for admission to professional courses in medicine and engineering.
The fact that almost 100% of the students who appeared for the HSSC were deemed to have passed the exam does not automatically qualify them for entry into the science stream or even for diploma courses in the polytechnics and industrial training institutes. Interestingly, all the 484 students who appeared for the HSSC exam from Canacona, the most backward taluka in Goa, were declared passed. Besides the record pass percentage as in the case of the SSC result 60% secured either a first class or distinction.
The formula adopted by the Goa Board was 30:30:40 formula based on the performance of the students in class 10 and class 11 and on internal assessment carried out by the schools in class 12. The real value of the results and the first class and the distinction will be realised when the students appear for various competitive exam such as the entrance exam for the IIT and the National Eligibility test for admission to medical colleges.
The secondary boards in the country have reduced education to a joke by passing everyone just because they could not hold physical exams which would have revealed the actual performance of the students. Those who are the biggest victims are the brightest students who take the 10th and 11th and even the internal assessment lightly and reserves all their energies for the final lap of the race.

PEGASUS SPYWARE

AND a few stray thoughts on reports that the Union Home Minister is using the Pegasus spyware for surveillance of the electronic communication of not only those who are critical of the Modi government but even Union ministers and constitutional authorities. It is even being claimed that among the phone calls and WhatsApp messages that are being monitored by Amit Shah include those of former Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, and former
Election Commissioner Ashok Lawasa, and the recently appointed Railways, Communication & IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnav.
Incidentally, the new Union Telecoms Minister is the district magistrate who halted the Ram Janmabhoomi Rath Yatra of LK Advani and arrested senior BJP leaders, when he was posted in Bihar. Even the poll strategists Prashant Kishore, who has helped Modi in the 2014 and 2019 Parliamentary elections has apparently not been spared. The Pegasus software was allegedly used for spying on as many as 50,000 phones, it was reportedly developed by an Israeli security company.
Israel’s NSO group has questioned the veracity of the allegations and insists that the company does not have either the numbers or the data base because this remains with the client. But the Israeli company has not ruled out the possibility of Pegasus being used to tap over 50,000 mobiles phones in the country.
Technically calls cannot be intercepted without giving adequate reasons. According to the new Telecom Secretary each case of interception or monitoring is approved by the competent authority. But when Amit Shah himself is the competent authority we cannot find out whether he granted approval or not. The victims of the spying activity using the Israeli malware include Indian journalists, activists, business executives and Opposition politicians.
As many as a thousand numbers from the full list have been identified. Of them 600 are politicians and government officials. The second largest group of 189 are journalists including 40 from India. The list also include 85 human rights activists and 64 business executives. It is even claimed that the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, assassinated in Turkey in 2018, was a Pegasus target along with his fiancée and wife. We do not know if the name of Danish Siddiqi, the Reuters photojournalist who was killed in Afghanistan by the Taliban in this list.

DEEP FAKE IT!

AND a few stray thoughts on the very rapid development of artificial intelligence. It has been reported that AI can be used to create deep fake imitations of real WhatsApp messages or videos or even telephonic conversations. The deep fake AI looks so authentic that it is liable for widespread abuse. The deep fake AI was reportedly used in the US elections in favour of Donald Trump. China has been accused of using the deep fake AI against the United States. There have even been reports that AI can be used to foment misinformation on politicians and policies to create s divide between not just communities but countries.
This is like the communal riots which are instigated in India through fake rumours of the holy cow being butchered by the Muslim community. There have been literally hundreds of cases in which the courts have found that the majority of the accusations are false. There are cases in which Muslims arrested on false charges have spent ten years in jail before the cases have been dismissed. But deep fake AI is far more dangerous than mere verbal or WhatsApp rumours as it is difficult to distinguish between genuine and deep fake AI unit.
The fastest development technologies are in the field of AI. The potential for misuse in AI is much larger than any other technology currently used by individual organisations and even governments against one another.

CURFEW EXTENDED

AND a few stray thoughts on the UK and many countries in Europe even opening up night clubs, while Chief Minister Pramod Sawant continues to extend the Goan curfew. Initially, it was the other way round, when Pramod Sawant refused to close the casinos and the night clubs even when the second wave was at its peak. He finally imposed a curfew towards April-end, long after the situation had become critical and the number of positive cases had spiked to newer heights than during the first wave. To the extent that there was an acute shortage not only of oxygen and the medicines needed to treat covid-19, but even a shortage of hospital beds.
Now the opposite is happening with the UK and Germany opening up even the night clubs in their country and lifting curbs on wearing masks and maintaining a physical distance. This, despite the fact that the number of covid-19 cases, particular after the delta plus variant continues to go up in the UK and in Europe. Pramod Sawant has turned from an ultra-liberal to an ultra-conservative, as though he is extending concessions with each extension of the curfew.
AND a few stray thoughts on the State government getting ready to re-open tourism in view of the demands from the hospitality industry. As per the latest concessions, restaurants and hotels are being permitted to function at 50% capacity. The government may be considering the re-opening of night clubs and casinos also, inspired by the United Kingdom which has relaxed the ban on night clubs.
However, covid-19 experts are afraid that this may trigger off a third wave. Even in the UK and in Tokyo where Olympics have begun there is a strong opposition to the relaxation of wearing masks and maintaining the required physical distance. The State government has already resumed bus services to various cities in Karnataka, including Belgavi and Hubli. Goa University has confirmed that the main attractions for tourists in Goa are gambling and drinking. Unfortunately for fenny the majority of domestic tourists prefer beer and Indian made foreign liquor. Only 2% of tourists opt for fenny or feni.

CONGRESS SOLUTION

AND a last stray thought on the Congress High Command summoning all the Congress MLAs to New Delhi. The Gandhi family in an attempt to solve the infighting between senior Congress leaders has decided to intervene directly. The 15 of the 17 MLAs who were elected on the Congress ticket in the 2017 elections have been directed to meet Rahul Gandhi in Delhi. Already the Goa Pradesh Congress Committee president, Girish Chodankar, and senior party leaders Luizinho Faleiro, Reginaldo Lourenco and Ramakant Khalap have reached Delhi. The South Goa Member of Parliament Francisco Saldinha is also expected to attend the meeting.
The urgent meeting called by Rahul Gandhi may have been provoked by rumours that the ten Congress MLAs who had defected to the BJP in 2018 are planning to join the Nationalist Congress Party.

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