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Mining Sector: CHECK ILLEGAILTY WITH GROWTH, by Dhurjati Mukherjee,12 March 2012 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 12 March 2012

Mining Sector


By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Illegal mining scandals are hitting the headlines in various States. Be it Madhya Pradesh wherein an IPS officer is alleged to have been killed by the mining mafia, or Karnataka where the High Court has quashed the FIR against former Chief Minister Y S Yeddyruppa in illegal mining or Goa where the ruling Congress had to bite the dust thanks to mining scams, the nation is unfortunately inundated by these. A concerned Centre is making efforts to stem the rot but these may not be enough.  

It cannot be denied that the mining industry itself is facing a plethora of issues concerning environment clearances, land acquisition, rehabilitation of the affected population, evacuation logistics et al. Despite being one of the largest sources of minerals worldwide the problems and scandals have come in the way of ensuring optimal extraction of such resources.

The proposed amendment in the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act was expected to help address issues affecting the growth of this sector. However, in its current form, as approved by the Union Cabinet, the Bill has raised more concerns for the sector. While there is little doubt that the mining sector would have a more humane face-- to ensure better livelihood for a large section of population in the mining belt, say for example the clause of prospective miners having to take concurrence of gram sabhas before securing mining leases, it hasn’t gained the confidence of the industry. Rather the latter is unhappy with some of the laws and regulations, which it terms as stringent.

However, the tough stance in the Bill against illegal mining is no doubt noteworthy. Under Section 30(4) of the Bill, any mining lease can be terminated on the directive of the Centre for unlawful activities. Indicating the Centre’s resolve to combat the menace of illegal mining head on, the Bill very aptly provides stringent penalties including fines extending to ten times the value of the mineral mined or three years of imprisonment or both. Environmental concerns have also been duly considered.

It would be worthwhile if the Government made a note of a recent report prepared by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel led by ecologist, Madav Gadgil, which recommended an indefinite moratorium on new environmental clearances for mining in the ecologically sensitive zone (ESZ) in Goa and Ratnigiri and Sindhudurg districts in Maharashtra. It suggested that mining be banned in over 80 revenue blocks and strictly regulated in another 75-odd revenue blocks or taluks spread over five states -- Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat apart from Goa. 

In ESZ-I, it suggested that all mining must be phased out by 2016 while another significant recommendation was the setting up of the Western Ghats Ecology Authority, under the Environment Protection Act, to reform environmental impact analysis and clearance process and introduce transparency. At the same time, the question of the benefits of mining percolating down to the local communities, including tribals and the backward castes cannot be ignored. But it is ironic that the mineral rich States such as Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh have a low per capita GDP compared to the national average.

Therefore, emphasis on a sustainable development framework was recently outlined in the strategy paper of the Ministry of Mines among which mention may be made of the following points: enforce critical components of sustainability through regulatory changes like increasing financial commitment for mine closure and link it to post closure rehabilitation cost; promote large-scale mining through creation of SPVs similar to UMPP for large-scale power projects; incentivise private sector R&D in mineral beneficiation and processing so as to utilize lower grades and extract important by-product metals such as Mo, Co, Ni, platinum group elements and rare earth elements;  award companies which outperform on sustainability; and provide best practice case studies and concepts for implementation.

The mineral sector has the potential to accelerate the pace of development of the economy besides generating employment for the economically backward communities in the mineral-rich States. In addition, it can contribute $ 55-70 billion revenue to the Central and State governments in the form of corporate tax, royalty and export duty collections by the year 2025.

But there is need for the mining sector to adhere to rules and regulations and adopt sustainable practices. This was the theme of the 4th Asian Mining Congress held in Kolkata, though many speakers emphasized on the huge potential of the mining sector and the need for impetus for its further growth. In fact, it has been estimated that if the potential of the sector is unlocked, it could add over $ 210 billion to the country’s GDP and create 15 million direct and indirect jobs by the year 2025 or even earlier.

The aspect of stagnating coal input in the country is another aspect to be considered. Delays in coal mining projects have affected the Coal India Ltd output. Its recently retired chairman, N. C. Jha, noted that though behind everything is the contribution of mining – directly or indirectly – social activists and the society at large are averse to mining. Mining, he stated, has to be done taking care of the needs of society and be responsive to the environment for which a sustainable approach is necessary.

Accordingly, the following measures need to be implemented: enhancing exploration through modern techniques; land acquisition for mining in a judicious manner keeping in view social issues; introduction of IT in mining; opening of high capacity underground mines; R&D initiatives for effective utilization of clean coal technologies; and  meeting demand side management (as the demand for coal is expected to reach 980 million tonnes) by the terminal year of the 12th Plan.

The question of sustainable mining in Asia is another aspect looked into by experts. Some insist that accelerated production practices were imperative keeping in view the need for ‘power for all’ by 2030 or 2032. Besides, a single point clearance for mining being accorded within 90 days and also induction of modern technology to boost up production could be done.

Some others seek exports of minerals to be discouraged and focus on underground mining. While the aspect of undertaking major steps for tackling problems faced by engineers and technologists is too important viz earth resource conservation and management; solid waste disposal and management; environmental management of abandoned and degraded land;  mining in ecologically fragile areas; and information technology and diffusion of clean technology.

The growth of the mining sector is no doubt necessary but the industry henceforth has to abide by the prevalent rules and regulations, stop illegal mining and also ensure a better livelihood for the affected population. Then only can the growth of the mining sector become people-centric and help the overall development of the States and economy as a whole. Besides, hopefully erase the illegal mining headlines. ---INFA 

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)




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