Amend­ment with­out cor­rec­tion

Mines and min­er­als amend­ment bill falls short of mean­ing­ful re­form


PMarch 20,passed AR­LIA­MENT, ON the bill propos­ing amend­ments to the 1957 Act gov­ern­ing the min­ing sec­tor. The process of pass­ing this bill re­flects the prob­lems In­dian democ­racy faces wherein it is now im­pos­si­ble to get a bi­par­ti­san agree­ment on even an is­sue as im­por­tant as min­ing.

The Mines and Min­er­als (Devel­op­ment & Reg­u­la­tion) Bill of 2015—mmdr Bill, 2015, in short—was passed by the Lok Sabha on March 3. For a sec­tor like min­ing that af­fects the lives and liveli­hoods of mil­lions of peo­ple from the most marginalised sec­tions of so­ci­ety, the bill was not dis­cussed with most stake­hold­ers be­fore be­ing pre­sented in the Lok Sabha. When it reached the Ra­jya Sabha, the op­po­si­tion forced the gov­ern­ment to send it to a se­lect com­mit­tee for re­view. How­ever, the com­mit­tee was given only a week to do its job and most stake­hold­ers were again not con­sulted.The se­lect com­mit­tee de­lib­er­a­tions, there­fore, be­came party po­lit­i­cal and no con­sen­sus was achieved on real is­sues con­cern­ing the min­ing sec­tor. In the end, more or less the bill that the gov­ern­ment had orig­i­nally pro­posed was passed by Par­lia­ment.

It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand the bill’s im­pli­ca­tions for the peo­ple, en­vi­ron­ment and the fu­ture of the min­ing sec­tor it­self.

For more than a decade the coun­try has de­bated the need to amend the mmdr Act of 1957.This cul­mi­nated in the mmdr Bill, 2011, that was in­tro­duced in Par­lia­ment, propos­ing an en­tirely new gov­er­nance model for the min­ing sec­tor. How­ever,due to dis­agree­ments within the United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance gov­ern­ment and pres­sure from in­dus­try it was al­lowed to lapse in 2014.The mmdr Bill of 2015 is a dis­torted ver­sion of the 2011 bill. In it, a co­her­ent whole has been trun­cated to suit the short-term needs of in­dus­try and all pro­gres­sive ideas to im­prove the en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial per­for­mance of the sec­tor have been thrown out of the win­dow.

In­sti­tu­tional re­forms ig­nored

The min­ing sec­tor is plagued by poor and mul­ti­ple reg­u­la­tions, dis­cre­tionary de­ci­sion-mak­ing pow­ers,weak in­sti­tu­tions,in­ad­e­quate mon­i­tor­ing and fee­ble en­force­ment.There is also lack of ca­pac­ity within the gov­ern­ment for as­sess­ment of min­eral re­sources and for devel­op­ment and mon­i­tor­ing of min­ing plans and en­vi­ron­ment and so­cial man­age­ment plans.Sim­ply put, the gov­er­nance struc­ture of the sec­tor is out­dated and needs se­ri­ous re­forms.

The ma­jor gov­er­nance re­forms in the 2015 bill in­clude in­tro­duc­tion of an auc­tion mech­a­nism for al­lo­cat­ing all min­ing con­ces­sions and pro­vi­sions for timely de­ci­sions, in­crease in penalty for vi­o­la­tions and cre­at­ing spe­cial courts for speedy tri­als.Th­ese re­forms are in­ad­e­quate and some could even cre­ate more prob­lems. For in­stance,sim­ply in­creas­ing penalty for vi­o­la­tions within the ex­ist­ing in­sti­tu­tional frame­work makes rent-seek­ing be­hav­iour more lu­cra­tive and will not curb il­le­gal min­ing.Sim­i­larly,in the ab­sence of strong and sci­en­tif­i­cally com­pe­tent in­sti­tu­tions to es­tab­lish min­eral re­serves and val­u­a­tion,auc­tion­ing can be ma­nip­u­lated for pri­vate in­ter­ests.

Poor en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tices pro­moted

The big­gest prob­lem with the bill is that it jeop­ar­dises all the gains made in the past 10-15 years to im­prove en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tices in the sec­tor.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal per­for­mance of a mine is closely linked to how it is opened and ul­ti­mately re­ha­bil­i­tated and closed. In fact,it is said that a mine should not be opened if it can­not be closed. Un­der the new bill all min­ing leases shall be granted for 50 years, with no re­quire­ment for re­newals. The lease pe­riod for ex­ist­ing mines has also been ex­tended to 50 years. Af­ter ex­piry, leases can be re-auc­tioned.

Long lease pe­riod will mean thou­sands of mines will be kept open si­mul­ta­ne­ously.This does not make sense from an en­vi­ron­men­tal per­spec­tive be­cause ev­ery open mine is a source of pol­lu­tion. From

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