December 18, 2017 2:46:24 am
With state governments like Odisha raising questions on the ambiguity of the role of district level authorities, the Union environment ministry has suggested the Union mines ministry that the role of district level authorities needs to be clearly defined in the new National Mineral Policy (NMP) as they are now involved in the process of granting Environment Clearance (EC).
“At present, the role of state (government) is defined in the NMP 2008 but as the district level authorities are now involved in the EC process, thus the role of district level authorities needs to be defined in the new NMP,” stated Surendra Kumar, Advisor, Ministry of Enviornment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) in a letter dated December 6, 2017, to Bipul Pathak, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Mines.
On January 15, 2016, the MOEFCC issued a notification stating that district level authorities have the power to grant EC to any individual that has a minor mineral’s mining lease of up to 5 Hectares size. According to Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015, there are total 55 listed minor minerals including chalk, clay, dolomite, mica and sand.
The 2016 notification also stated that if there is a cluster of minor mineral’s mining leases, where the total cluster area is less than 25 Hectares, then the district level authorities can grant the mining lease. “The requirement of District Survey Report for minor minerals is also mentioned in this notification,” Kumar stated in his letter.
On August 2, 2017, the Supreme Court had passed a judgment, wherein it directed the Central government to revisit the NMP, 2008, and announce a “fresh and more effective, meaningful and implementable policy” before the end of this year. The mines ministry formed a committee – which included officials from various ministries including Union environment ministry — after this judgment and its first meeting took place on August 28. Pathak is also the Member Secretary of this committee.
The second meeting of this committee took place on September 11, 2017. Deepak Mohanty, Director of Mines, Odisha government, was also present at this meeting. According to the minutes of this meeting, he informed the committee that several rounds of discussions and deliberations were held with MOEFCC prompting them to issue a circular in 2016 for relaxing the exploration norms. “The circular empowered the DFO (District Forest Officer) to allow exploration if the vegetation cover is less than 10 per cent; and allowed the regional office of the concerned state to take a decision if the vegetation cover is up to 40 per cent. Only in the case where the vegetation cover is more than 40 per cent, the circular required a proper forest clearance be required to be obtained,” the minutes stated.
According to minutes of the meeting, Mohanty stated that despite the circular, Odisha government is facing problems in undertaking exploration activities in forest areas; and in this regard he mentioned that the DFOs in Odisha would not allow preparation of temporary pathways which are essential for taking drill machines to the site if exploration has to be taken up.
Meanwhile, in his letter to Pathak, Kumar raised other issues too that should be incorporated in revised NMP. “The India’s Intended National Determined Contribution (INDC) Goal, inter alia, requires increasing the share of non-fossil fuel based electricity. Thus, the development of atomic minerals should be emphasised in the new national mineral policy,” Kumar stated.
Kumar suggested three another points in his letter: “The mine lease holders should be encouraged to excavate maximum mineral from the existing mines rather than breaking new mines without exhausting the previous allowed mines; it may clarified in the preamble (of NMP) that for the mines involving forest areas, stage-1 FC (forest clearance) is pre-requisite for seeking EC; it may be clarified in the preamble (of NMP) that no mining is allowed within 1 km periphery of any wildlife sanctuary and national park in pursuance of Supreme Court order date August 4, 2006.”
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