Community command and control over all natural resources must for securing mineral wealth for future generations

IMG_20151104_162051By Nishant Alag*

Mines, minerals and People (mm&P), a national alliance of mining affected communities organised a meeting for one and a half days in Bhubabeshwar (November 3-4, 2015) to discuss on the transformations in mining law, benefit sharing and illegal mining. The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) (MMDR) Act ,1957 was amended in March 2015 to facilitate auctioning of non-coal minerals including minor minerals and extending the current leases for a period of 50 years and new mining leases also will be given for 50 years, these were earlier for a period of 20 years. Now the lessee can squat over a long period and cut across rights of two generations.

Every year around 80,000-90,000 cases of illegal mining are reported by the Government and several questions have also been raised in Parliament, but there is no respite in curbing illegal mining. The MB Shah commission investigated illegal mining and assessed the loss at Rs 60,000 crore which surpassed the other mining scams of iron ore and manganese ore.

This is a huge loss to natural resources by which few people are looting resources while the resources as commons are meant for communities – the fine realized from illegal mining (official estimates) per year is approximately Rs 11 crore which is much away from reality. There are eight districts in Odisha, which have more than 50 per cent tribal population, and another six districts having tribal population between 30-50 per cent, and most of the mining is in the scheduled areas and tribal areas. These communities protected forests and faced hardship but still struggle for livelihoods.

The 1957 MMDR Act had nothing for the affected communities even after the Samata Judgment which said the 20 per cent of the net profit from mining should come back to tribal communities (1997) or cooperatives. In the MMDR Amendment Bill 2010, there was a provision for 26 per cent equity of mining affected communities in mining areas which would have given a right to communities to intervene legally in any illegal or unauthorized extraction or violations of environmental and other laws. Apart from this the communities would have organised their impacted lives which they have been living due to exploitation of minerals. This was slashed and replaced by 100 per cent equivalent of royalty.

But the MMDR Amendment Act 2015 even replaced this proportion of royalty. The new (section 9b) Act requires every mining affected district to form a district mineral foundation (DMF), which will receive some royalty from mining. It has been proposed that leases operational before January 12, 2015 will contribute 30 per cent equivalent of royalty (over and above the royalty paid to State) and leases issued after January 12, 2015 will contribute 10 per cent equivalent of royalty to DMF. The Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Kalyan Yojna (PMKKKY) passed in September 2015 lays guidelines and works to be undertaken by DMFs, which will be constituted by States after framing rules in consonance with PMKKKY. With this transformation, there seems nothing in favour of mining affected communities while community command over natural resources remains a neglected idea by the policy makers.

The governments are getting some royalty (Rs 9406 crore in 2012-13 from non-coal minerals and almost similar amount from coal) and taxes, which is nothing close to the value of minerals and remains a single digit percentage (around 6-8 per cent). Orissa’s royalty for 2012-13 was 4500 crore approximately.

Minerals are non-renewable and these got developed due to natural processes over thousands of years but the current development and exploitation of minerals has not thought about our future generations. Even if mining has to continue with minimize impacts and rationalization of legal mining, the government has to ensure future generations get benefited from it, which has also been stated by the Supreme Court in Goa Foundation vs Union of India case. The government must now think about safeguarding the rights of future generations and conduct mining in a transparent manner, as any loss to the mineral asset will only make the future of next generations weak and put them into a vicious cycle of resource crunch without any reparation.

The meeting demanded that the government recognize that it is merely a custodian, and particularly in Schedule V areas has no right to hand over the natural resources in favour of the corporates. The meeting favoured the existing situation of Niyamgiri where Gram Sabhas refused to give consent to mining and condemns any action to subvert the situation. The pittance in the name of PMKKY is eyewash and we need communities command and control over all natural resources and enabling mineral wealth for future generations. The defaulting companies should not be permitted to mine; these companies were identified by the Shah Commission as practicing illegal mining, and the whole amount assessed (scam) should be recovered at first place.

*Article prepared with the help of Deme Oram, Sudershan Chhotray and Theophil Gomango of the Odisha chapter of mm&P. Participants in the conference included Ravi Rebbapragda, chairperson of mm&P; Ashok Shrimali, secretary general, mm&P; Basant Pradhan, EC Member, Odisha mm&P; Deme Oram, EC Member, Odisha mm&P; Nicholas Barla, Member, Odisha mm&P; and Rahul Basu, EC Member, Goa mm&P

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