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Inglorious end? SC dismisses Vedanta petition claiming iron ore mining rights until 2037

By Rosamma Thomas 
Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal filed by Vedanta Ltd against a Bombay High Court order of November 2019 concerning their alleged iron ore mining rights for a period of 50 years, until the year 2037. A writ petition filed by a former mine lease holder, Geetabala Parulekar, for similar rights, was also dismissed.
On July 9, 2021 the Supreme Court had dismissed a batch of review petitions filed by the Goa government and Vedanta against its judgment of February 7, 2018, cancelling a second renewal of 88 mining leases in Goa.Non-governmental organization Goa Foundation, which approached the Supreme Court in this matter, was represented by Advocates Prashant Bhushan and Pranav Sachdeva.
On October 29, 2019, Vedanta wrote to the Goa government demanding extension of their mining lease deed to enable mining operations to continue until 2037. Vedanta argued that they were entitled to such mining rights on the basis of the judgment of the SC of February 7, 2018, cancelling 88 mining lease renewals and directing that fresh leases and environment clearances be granted by the government. 
Vedanta said, it held a mining lease under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act. “As you are aware with the coming into force of the MMDR Amendment Act, 2015, the tenure of all mining leases is deemed to be 50 years,” the petition states. It stated that the SC had ruled that this tenure would apply even to leases that had been granted before the Act was passed.
Vedanta claimed that its first lease was granted by the Portuguese regime, before Goa was annexed and became part of the Indian Union. “As you are aware, our leases were previously mining concessions granted by the Portuguese regime under the laws then applicable in Goa, and were abolished and declared as mining leases under the MMDR Act only by means of the Goa, Daman and Diu Mining Concessions (Abolition and Declaration as Mining Leases) Act).”
Vedanta said its first mining lease came into effect from December 20, 1961 (coinciding with the annexation of Goa into the Indian Union after action by the armed forces). 
“Based on legal opinion obtained by us, we submit that notwithstanding the expiry of our leases on November 22, 2007, in view of Section 8A(3) of the MMDR Act, our leases stand extended by operation of law till November 22, 2037, i.e 50 years from the date of grant and which in the present case would be 50 years from 1987.” The legal opinion had been obtained from Advocate Harish Salve, who served as Solicitor General of India from 1999-2002.
In July 2020, Claude Alvares, director of Goa Foundation, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointing out that the state government had failed to recover dues from 21 lease holders. Over Rs3,400 was due, and recovery would go a long way in redressing the financial problems facing the state, he pointed out. In 2012, the SC had banned mining in Goa after illegalities were found to be rampant. After the order of 2018 quashing the 88 mining leases, mining had halted again.
In July this year Goa passed the Goa Mineral Development Bill, 2021, paving the way for the setting up of a corporation that will make allotments of mine leases.
In a press release announcing the legal victory, the Goa Foundation said, “With this development, the private mining industry and its lobbies which held sway over the sector for more than 50 years has come to an inglorious end.”

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