Dangerous mix of bad policies, weak institutions, govt inertia responsible for rampant illegal mining

illegal mining

Sushant Panigrahi*

There are near about 4 lakh illegal mining cases in the last four years, Piyush Goyal, Union Minister of Coal, Power and New Energy, has admitted. Indeed, India’s mining sector is rife with illegality. The last couple of years have witnessed a complete breakdown of law in the country’s mining sector. The government itself acknowledges that the mining sector is a myriad of problems, including widespreaad illegal mining. The current monsoon session of 2017 observed large scale lawlessness prevailing in the country’s mining sector. The answer given in a written note in Lok Sabha, Goyal, in response to a question raised by K Parsuraman, raises many eyebrows, revealing shocking collapse of laws governing the mining sector.

The reply shows that between 2013-14 and 2016-17 as many as 3, 94,836 instances of illegal mining were reported in the last four years across the country. It reveals that instances of illegal mining violating various norms and provisions has only increased in the last four years : These have gone up to 96,098 in the year 2017-18 from 91,587 in the year 2013-14.

The reply, incidentally, shows no instance of illegal mining in some states, including Himachal Pradesh. However, “The Times of India” (May 18, 2017) reported that 8,500 cases of illegal mining were detected in the state last year. In the previous year, 2015-16, as many as 9,303 instances of illegal mining were detected. Another report said, “HP High Court take notice of illegal mining reports, warns DGP and officials of stern action”. Published in “Himachal Watcher” (September 20, 2016), the report says that illegal mining has been “noticed” by the Himachal High Court. Hearing a plea alleging unauthorized excavation on government land in Kangra, the National Green Tribunal on June 23, 2017 directed the Himachal Pradesh government to ensure that there is no illegal mining in the state “under any circumstance”.

These instances suggest how operators harvest resources they have no legal right to exploit. They also show how, even mines operating with the approval of government regulators are able to violate the law with complete impunity. Yet, the bigger problem is the failure of the key regulatory mechanism to ensure that at least legal mine operators comply with law and respect human rights. And, because of a dangerous mix of bad policies, weak institutions, and corruption, government oversight and regulation, India’s mining industry is largely ineffectual. The result is chaos.

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Looking at the statement showing action taken against illegal mining, it is clear that despite a large number of illegal mining (3,94,836), FIRs were registered in just 20,569 (5%) of the cases and court cases filed stood at 57,758.

International and national laws oblige India to protect its citizen from abuses by mining companies. But it seems India has failed to do so. Instead, numbers of human rights violations are gradually increasing. The government’s key watchdog/agencies are a stand-by spectator, when out-of-control mining barons threaten life, livelihood, and environment of entire communities. More often than not, gross violations of human rights are committed by state actors, particularly with regards to “development” projects. India’s indigenous communities have witnessed massive violation of human rights and have been soft victim of such projects.

In yet another answer to Parliament, the Government of India has given state-wise breakup of the total number of cases, registered, disposed of and pending in respect of human rights violations between 2014-15 and 2017-18 (till July). The reply by Kiren Rijiju, minister of state in the ministry of home affairs, shows 18% decrease in violation of human rights. Total number of 20,980 instances of human rights violation were registered in the years 2014-15 as against 11,4167 in 2017-18. However, there is no detailed information of pending cases, which between 2013-14 and 2017-18 July stood at 20,966.

On the issues related with illegal mining in the state of Gujarat, the reply by Goyal to a question raised in the Lok Sabha by Mansukhbhai Vasava on Aug 3,2017 reveals that instances of illegal mining has risen by nearly 53 per cent in the last four years in the state, with 8,325 cases being registered in 2016-17 against 5,447 in 2013-14, despite the availability of satellite imageries and the mining surveillance system. Data show that between 2013 and 2017 (till March), there were 25,987 instances of illegal mining across the state.

Gujarat’s regulatory measures in curbing illegal mining seem to be having little impact on the ground. Despite having large number of illegal mining cases, action taken by the government in this regard is not encouraging. FIRs registered against illegal mining stands are a mere 318, while number of court cases being filed is just 29.

In addition, in his reply to a question raised by Tamradhwaj Sahu on March 23, 2017, on number of cases of coal theft that came to light and action taken thereon till date, Goyal provides the shocking information about government-owned coal enterprises and their subsidiaries, saying, most instances of coal theft that were committed by government-owned enterprises and their subsidiaries. The reply reveals how serial offenders such as Eastern Coal Ltd (ECL), Coal India and their subsidiaries, who have the track record of thieving coal for years, were allowed to continue plundering our natural resources under the government’s nose.

The reply also shows that as many as 397 instances of coal theft were reported between 2013-14 and 2016-17, but there were just eight FIRs registered against ECL in the year 2013-14, which went up to 226 in 2016-17. Further, 88 FIRs were lodged against Coal India in 2013-14 as against 271 in 2016-17.

*Senior researcher at Samata, an organization working on tribal issues

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