Yeh koyle ki khaan ek ajgar hai... joh roz anginat mazdooron ko nighalta hai aur unhe chabake, peeske, kuchalke… ek laash ki soorat mein unhe vapas ughal deta hai (This coal mine is a python which swallows countless workers every day and chews them, crushes them, smashes them and then spits out their dead bodies): Yash Chopra isn’t best remembered for Kaala Patthar (1979), which focused on the Chasnala mining disaster that took place near Dhanbad and claimed nearly 400 lives. Instead, he’s known for tulip fields, Swiss snow dust and the romantic woes of bipolar Indians. Activists feel that is the problem with mining. Particular incidents are of national interest but the reasons, allowing them to occur and re-occur, aren’t dramatic enough to hold a nation’s attention.
The Mines Minerals & People (MM&P) is a growing alliance of individuals, institutions and communities who are concerned and affected by mining. The group that spans 20 diverse support organisations in 16 states has signed a petition against illegal mining in the country and its signees will soon arrive in the national capital to present it to parliamentarians.
The document states that minerals are the natural resources most easily converted to cash and this drives rent-seeking, illegal mining, bending of rules, turning a blind eye to violations, under and over invoicing among other malpractices. This has, the petition notes, been well documented in a number of states including Rajasthan, Karnataka, Goa, Odisha, Jharkhand. For instance, the Supreme Court ruled that mining in Goa was illegal after November 2007. Mining was finally stopped nearly five years later. Estimates of the loss in Goa is Rs 65,000 crore, Rs 4.5 lakh per person. This is a huge driver of corruption, poor governance and the resource crunch. In Goa, between 2004 and 2012, 95 percent of the value of the minerals were lost. The per head loss from the recent ‘legal’ lease renewal was Rs 10 lakh.
"The 2014 Supreme Court judgement found mining after 2007 to be illegal. The amount of what was illegally mined was estimated at Rs 65,000 crore, which is Rs 4.5 lakh per person in Goa. The Goa budget is about Rs 10,000 crore, this is 6.5 times the annual budget. The illegal mining was done under the Congress rule. The BJP made it worse by renewing 88 mining leases under questionable circumstances. This gave up the claim we had to Rs 65,000 crore. In fact, under the lease terms, an estimated Rs 79,000 crore was given away instead,” says Rahul Basu of the Goa Foundation, which has conceptualised the Goenchi Mati Movement. Further, as mining is essentially the sale of the family gold, everything received must be saved in an inheritable asset, in the Goenchi Mati Permanent Fund (Goan earth). The Supreme Court order established a Goa Iron Ore Permanent Fund, Rs 94 crore has been deposited, but the order doesn't go far enough. It doesn't cover all minerals and everything received.
Ravi R, the founder of MM&P, is also the man behind the Supreme Court Samata judgement of 1997 which laid down that transfer of mining lease to non-tribals is unconstitutional and that at least 20 percent of the profits be set aside as permanent fund for development needs, apart from reforestation and maintenance of ecology. Ravi feels that conservation isn’t only about jal (water), jangal (forest) and jameen (land), but also about khaneej (mineral). “What is below the ground is also ours and the exploitation of minerals is just like the reckless selling of family gold, which can be used by our children,” he says. On the lines of the Forest Conservation Act 1980, an all-inclusive act needs to be put in place for minerals, he says.
The reply to a parliament question posed to the Ministry of Mines in the Lok Sabha in May 2016, on the number of illegal mines in India, was scary. As stated, there were 48,467 illegal mining cases in 2015-16, a total of 43,091 court cases filed from 2013-2015 and the fine realised by the state government in the same period was Rs 117,081 lakh.
The problem takes a peculiar turn in each state. Ashok Shrimali, secretary general of MM&P and environmental activist based in Gujarat, says that the day to day monitoring that the mining departments must do, is not being done. “On paper, there are committees on district and state levels that are supposed to meet every three months to conduct reviews on the rapid growth of mining due to urbanisation, but these committees are nowhere to be found. This is especially required in the Tapi district near Surat, where a large amount of stone crushers are at work,” says Shrimali.
The other areas where illegal mining exists, he says, are Jamnagar and Dev Bhoomi Dwarka. Due to the illegal mining near rivers like Tapi, Narmada, Mahisagar and Vishwamitri and consequent ecological changes, vegetable cultivators and fishing communities turn into labourers or migrate to other states. “The one way to tackle the issue is by securing the lives of those who raise a voice against the mining mafias. There should be satellite monitoring particularly in sensitive areas like Belgaum and Kolhapur,” he says.
In Madhya Pradesh, the belt between Gwalior, Morena and Bhind is inaccessible to any government officer. Also, a ban in one state will simply make them pick up their establishment and move to another one. A ban on illegal mining in Haryana urged miners to move to Alwar, on the Haryana-Rajasthan border, all the more reason why a nationwide law is necessary.
In Madhya Pradesh, Yousef Beg runs the Pruthvi Trust that works with stone quarry workers and tribals affected by Panna tribal reserves. He says silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhalation of crystallise silica dust, is common. Moreover, it is diagnosed as tuberculosis and the wrong treatment is handed out to thousands. In Panna, where diamond and stone mining takes place, there are no facilities where the disease can be detected. “Because there is a tiger reserve in the area, residents are forced to go work in mines, all the more reason why the government should focus on health,” he points out.
In Uttarakhand, independent environmental activist Ravi Mittal, says that the rule that no machine should be used within 20 metres of a river bed is flouted in the state. “There are pressure plants close to the Ganga and construction materials lies in heaps around rivers like Sooswa and Song. Mining trucks come here from Himachal Pradesh,” he reveals.
The situation worsens as you move eastward toward Bihar. Santosh Upadhyay, who started the Bandhi Adhikaar Andolan in 2010, says mining departments have made allotments to contractors who are extracting sand from along the river Som. In districts like Darihat, Hurka, Nasriganj, instances of children and animals drowning into large landfills are quite common. “The question is, why doesn’t Bihar have a district mineral foundation where a royalty of 30 percent can be reserved for the district? This model has already been adopted in states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Through the route of illegal mining, minerals are reaching other states and abroad and we are not even getting royalty,” he says.
Move further eastward and Deme Oram, tribal activist from Sundergarah, Odisha, tells you that the amendment to the Mines and Minerals Act passed in 2014 says that clearance for auctions must be granted by gram sabhas. Oram asks, where are the gram sabhas? Why haven’t they been constituted? “The Mining Area Development Corporations formed by the state government interferes with the work of the District Mineral Foundations because the money that was to be spent in the district is now going to the state and being used for designing welfare programmes. There is no way to track how and where the raw materials coming out of the mines are being spent,” he says.
Moreover, children are involved in ancillary activities like stone cutting and polishing. “Since only one adult is on the roster and entire families are at work, it is hard to track child labour in mines,” says Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, HAQ Centre for Child Rights.
Agreeing with her is Mahalakshmi Parthasarthy, an environmental activist from Bengaluru. She asks why the environmental costs are never spoken about and instead there are only talks about acquisition and compensation? “Environmental impact assessment is a hurried three-month job. If we don’t pump time and money into research, we’re denying the intensity of the problem,” she says.
The petition states the following:
1. All mining must be on a zero loss basis. We cannot afford to lose any part of our children’s inheritance. This requires us to do the following:
(a) Illegal mining is simply theft from our children and must be punished severely.
(b) The government must prove that the terms of any fresh mining and prevent a loss.
(c) If there are any mines where we are losing any of the value of our children’s inheritance, the government must pursue all legal avenues to cancel the lease.
(d) In instances like the recent coal auctions that result in a subsidy for power consumers financed by selling the commons cheap, compensation for the full subsidy should be received from the Center.
2. All receipts from minerals should be treated as a capital receipt from the sale of our children’s inheritance. This should be deposited in a Future Generations Fund, with the state as the trustee on behalf of the present and especially future generations. This is already the practice in 50 countries and sub-national entities. The following steps must be followed:
(a) Any receipts from new leases must be deposited into the Future Generations Fund.
(b) All auction premium from mineral auctions should be deposited into this fund.
(c) At present, royalty is treated as revenue and spent. This must stop, although it may take a few years to reduce the dependence. Within five years, all receipts from minerals must be deposited into the fund.
Any loss is a loss to everyone equally, effectively a per-head tax, highly regressive.
3. The Future Generations Fund should be managed by the National Pension Scheme. The primary investment goal is to maintain the real value of the corpus in the face of rising prices, and various other threats like corruption, expropriation, etc. and to earn real income. The real income must only be distributed to all the people as a Citizens’ Dividend. Any loss or diversion is effectively a per-head tax, immoral.
4. As minerals are some of our most valuable assets, the state must implement a cutting edge control system. This includes the ICGLR Regional Certification Mechanism, a whistleblower rewards and protection scheme, real time data feeds, satellite, drone and lidar imaging, etc. Mining entities should also be audited frequently.
5. The people, as the real owners, should be permitted to satisfy themselves at any time that their children’s inheritance is protected. This requires radical transparency including implementing EITI, the ability to conduct social audits, and open access to the public to all data (including the data feeds) in real time at no cost.
Published Date: Jan 16, 2017 16:40 PM | Updated Date: Jan 16, 2017 17:00 PM