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Indian authorities "allow" illegal mining on payment of a pittance fine, refuse protection to affected communities

By Our Representative
A recent estimate by the mines, minerals & People (mm&P), a national alliance of mining affected communities, has said that every year around 80,000-90,000 cases of illegal mining are reported by governments across India. While the MB Shah commission, which investigated into their operations, assessed that they cost a whopping Rs 60,000 crore to state coffers, the fine realized from them per year is just a pittance, about Rs 11 crore.
This was revealed at a workshop organized by the mm&P in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, followed by another in Aasansol, West Bengal, early this month. Participants at the two workshops predicted, things are likely to get worse with the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) (MMDR) Act, 1957, amended in March 2015.
The amended Act would not make things any better for the local communities, an mm&P note on the two workshops said. The new Act mining by auctioning mines for a period of 50 years. Further, new mining leases would also be given for 50 years, instead of the 20-year period till now. This, according to mm&P, would mean nothing but a “huge loss” of natural resources on which local communities depend.
The impact of this could be seen in Odisha’s eight tribal districts, which have more than 50 per cent tribal population, and another six districts having tribal population between 30 and 50 per cent, the mm&P said. There is complete lack of protection to forests, and the locals are feeling their livelihood options being taken away.
No doubt, it was suggested, a new section, 9b, has been added in the amended Act. It requires every mining affected district to form a District Mineral Foundation (DMF), which is supposed to receive some royalty from mining. Thus, while leases operational before January 12, 2015 would contribute 30 per cent equivalent of royalty and leases issued after January 12, 2015 would contribute 10 per cent equivalent of royalty to the DMF.
Meanwhile, the Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Kalyan Yojna (PMKKKY), passed in September 2015, has laid down guidelines for work to be undertaken by DMFs. However, all this does not ensure the mining affected communities to regain control over the natural resources surrounding them.
The workshops discussed the examples of the coalmining area of Raniganj, West Bengal, which has been declared a “critically polluted” area by the Central Pollution Control Board. At both the places, local people have faced massive displacement.
In Raniganj, the government floated a Rs 2,160 crore master plan for resettlement and rehabilitation for providing relief to the affected communities. Yet, six years later, work for it has not begun. Demanding its early implementation, participants at the workshops insisted that the government must also think of safeguarding the rights of the local people while allowing mining.
Meanwhile, illegal mining continues at several places, such as in Birbhum district, whose operations have been challenged in the Eastern Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Kolkata. Giving example of how illegal mining has affected state revenues, the workshops were told, the Government of West Bengal’s annual coal cess in 2012-13 was Rs 1,380 crore, “but it is nothing close to the value of minerals extracted.”
The workshops demanded that illegal mining should be eliminated completely to safeguard environmental and economic losses. Government is custodian of mineral resources and it is its duty to protect the rights of future generations and it should not tolerate any loss or wish away resources for meagre royalty in comparison to the value of resources.
Among those who participated in the two workshops included Ashok Shrimali, secretary general, mm&P; Ravi Rebbapragda, chairperson of mm&P; members of the executive committee of the mm&P; Shiekh Hakim, General Secretary, Integrated Coal Mines Ltd Shramik Union (ICMLSU); Rup Kumar Sadhu, President, ICMLSU; apart from other senior activists.

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