Misuse of Mineral Foundation funds: HC asks Goa to respond in two weeks

The Hindustan Times | Aug 26, 2020

The petition has alleged that the Goa government has neglected the demands by those affected by mining and has instead diverted the funds for Covid-19 management

The Bombay high court (HC) at Goa has directed the Pramod Sawant-led government to respond within two weeks to a petition alleging misuse of funds by the two District Mineral Foundations (DMFs) in the coastal state.

The petition was filed by Sudesh Narayan Gaonkar and Nilesh Harishchandra Velip, who are residents of two mining-affected villages such as Velguem and Collem, respectively. The petitioners were supported by the Goa Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) known for its environmental activism.

The petition has alleged that the Goa government has neglected the demands by those affected by mining for long and has instead diverted the funds for the management of the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak in the state. The move is outside the scope of the DMFs, the plea added.

The petition has challenged the legal basis of the circular that has been issued by the state ministry of mines, which have recommended the diversion of the DMFs’ funds.

“There is a proposal to divert up to 30% of DMFs’ funds for Covid-19 relief measures in the state, while glossing over the primary objective of the reason behind the setting up of the mechanism. The persons for whom DMFs’ funds have been set aside by Parliament have suffered the ill-effects of mining activities for over two decades, as compared to the Covid-19 epidemic that was first reported in Goa less than six months ago,” alleged Claude Alvares, director, Goa Foundation.

Various mining-affected villages have filed proposals for improvement of their village assets, including water resources and agricultural fields, and have sought funds from the DMFs’ kitty to alleviate their woes.

However, the proposals have allegedly fallen on the state authorities’ deaf ears .

For instance, over 40 proposals have been received by a DMF alone for financial support, including for rehabilitation of village assets such irrigation sources and paddy fields.

“The two DMFs have abandoned their statutory responsibilities and the applications are still pending with the state government,” the petition alleged.

In 2018, the HC had lashed out at the Goa government for its failure to utilise the funds sanctioned under the DMFs.

“This state of affairs is shocking. The state government did not make the DMFs operational, despite collecting ₹180 crore for the past two and half years. We have been told that the money was invested, but we have not been informed under what heads the sum was utilised. The affected villages have been approaching us for basic amenities such as drinking water. Those affected by the mining cannot be made to toil for benefits that are rightfully theirs and in whose name hundreds of crores of rupees are collected by these foundations,” the HC had said in March 2018.

“We repeatedly asked the additional advocate-general for an explanation for such colossal neglect, but none was forthcoming. We are at a loss for words to describe the (state government’s) apathy,” the court had observed.

Under Section 9(B) of the Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, each state is obligated to establish a DMF for a district that is affected by mining activities.

Goa has two such DMFs, one each for north and south Goa.

DMF is entrusted with the responsibility to work for the interests and benefits of the public and the areas affected by mining activities.