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of mining plans and environment and social management plans.Simply put, the governance structure of the sector is outdated and needs serious reforms.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