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New govt, old hurdles: Curbing illegal mining

Stringent penal provisions have been incorporated in the fresh Act under which the states have been empowered to set up special courts for speedy trial of unlawful mining cases.

Written by Priyadarshi Siddhanta | New Delhi | Published: June 16, 2015 3:23:34 am

In the past five years, the mining sector has been in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. From illegal exploitation of resources to banning of iron ore mining in Karnataka and Goa, the sector has been constantly earning a bad name. Rampant illegal mining in Goa and Karnataka led to the Supreme Court imposing a ban on exploitation of iron ore in Karnataka in 2011 and in Goa the next year. However, the
improper tackling of the menace has emerged as a major governance issue for the NDA government.

After coming to power last year, the Modi government adopted a two-pronged approach to contain illicit mining. The first step was to strengthen the existing mining law and second was to prod the mineral-rich states to act against such miners.

On the legal front, the government introduced the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2015, which was vetted by the Parliament on March 20. Under the new Act, prospecting and mining leases of ten major minerals including iron ore and bauxite would be auctioned and the proceeds would go to the states just like the recent coal block auctions.

Stringent penal provisions have been incorporated in the fresh Act under which the states have been empowered to set up special courts for speedy trial of unlawful mining cases. These courts would have the same powers as those of session courts, according to the legislation. “There is zero tolerance on illegal mining and the stringent provisions enshrined in the new mining Act makes our intent very clear. We are happy that state governments are also cracking down hard on illegal mining,” Union mines minister Narendra Singh Tomar told The Indian Express.

In a related move, the government had tabled the MB Shah Commission reports on the quantum of illegal mining in Odisha and Goa last year. For Odisha, the Commission said unlawful mining denied around Rs 60,000 crore to the state exchequer in the past few years. The situation for Goa too was quite similar, the commission said.

The states have since been asked to strengthen their mineral administration and certain category of mines in Karnataka have been allowed to resume operations but the Supreme Court has capped the output in the state to 30 million tonne per annum (MTPA) and 20 MTPA
for Goa.

According to the data collected by the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM), 727 cases have been filed so far from last year following inspections in 2427 mines, of which the courts have upheld 25 cases filed by the Bureau. A total of 1,374 mines were operating in violation of the MMDR Act and operations were suspended by the IBM for 357 mines and penalties worth Rs 5,56,000 have been levied on miners found flouting the mineral concession rules and over extraction.

The bureau has served show-cause notices to owners of 605 mines since 2014-15 till April this year, according to IBM’s figures. The frequency of meetings of the State coordination-cum-empowered committee (CCEC), which is headed by the Union mines ministry’s top brass has also increased and measures to liquidate illegal mining are being constantly discussed.

The ministries of finance, shipping and railways have also joined hands with the mines ministry in containing illegal mining. IBM has constituted special task forces for inspection of mines in endemic areas with the help of satellite imagery.

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