Rule change gives miners route to by­pass auc­tion


Resource Digest - - CONTENTS -

The gov­ern­ment changed rules pro­tect­ing tribal rights, forests and en­vi­ron­ment to en­sure that more than 130 mines do not face fresh auc­tions and are re­tained by the miners con­cerned.

The changes were made to sev­eral reg­u­la­tions in a co­or­di­nated man­ner by the en­vi­ron­ment min­istry, the tribal af­fairs min­istry and the mines min­istry over a year, doc­u­ments show. The gov­ern­ment had passed an amend­ment to the Mines and Min­eral De­vel­op­ment and Reg­u­la­tion Act, 2015, to fa­cil­i­tate auc­tion­ing of mines, gen­er­at­ing rev­enue for the states con­cerned. Ear­lier, mines were only al­lo­cated, deny­ing higher rev­enue to the state cof­fers. But the gov­ern­ment cre­ated an ex­cep­tion even in the amended law.

Ac­cord­ing to Sec­tion 10(2) of the amended law, anybody with a li­cence to prospect or to carry out re­con­nais­sance and had started op­er­a­tions would get a min­ing li­cence. But the miner had to get all per­mis­sions for min­ing within two years of the amended MMDR Act — by Jan­uary 12, 2017.

The mines min­istry cal­cu­lated in Oc­to­ber 2016 that about 317 mines across 12 states could po­ten­tially be out of the auc­tion list un­der this pro­vi­sion. Of these, the min­istry ob­served, 97 mine own­ers had not taken any ac­tion to process their li­cences, and faced cancellation, and 138 re­quired en­vi­ron­ment, forests and tribal clear­ances. These 138 mines, thus, es­caped be­ing auc­tioned. A for­mal min­ing lease is pred­i­cated on se­cur­ing the statu­tory for­est and en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ances. Be­sides meet­ing other cri­te­ria, the for­est clear­ance it­self is pred­i­cated on the af­fected tribal vil­lage coun­cils giv­ing con­sent to their tra­di­tional forests be­ing cut down for min­ing and the claims of the forest­d­wellers be­ing set­tled un­der the For­est Rights Act. The miners with prospect­ing and re­con­nais­sance li­cence had to, there­fore, en­sure they had for­est clear­ance, the tribal com­mu­nity’s con­sent and the en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ance in the two years be­fore the dead­line of Jan­uary 12.

But records showed that on April 1, 2015, the en­vi­ron­ment min­istry changed rules to fa­cil­i­tate mines be­ing pro­tected against the threat of auc­tion. It passed an or­der to “as­sign” forests to these miners on lease as a gen­eral rule with­out full-fledged for­est clear­ance. The min­istry clar­i­fied that min­ing can be­gin only when the miners se­cured full-fledged for­est clear­ance. For fresh min­ing, it noted that now leases could be signed based on mere as­sign­ing of forest­land, in­stead of a de­tailed clear­ance. But the en­vi­ron­ment min­istry asked that the miners pay up the levy for the for­est area - pre­vi­ously col­lected only when it was de­cided the forests would be cut down for min­ing. It was not clar­i­fied how the gov­ern­ment would re­turn the levy if min­ing was not per­mit­ted af­ter as­sign­ing the land to the miners.

This helped the miners cir­cum­vent the dead­line of se­cur­ing full for­est clear­ance be­fore the Jan­uary dead­line. This short-cut ver­sion con­tin­ued to be pred­i­cated on the miners se­cur­ing the con­sent of trib­als un­der the For­est Rights Act. This was re­it­er­ated in Novem­ber 2016 by the en­vi­ron­ment min­istry, when it said all pro­vi­sions of the For­est Rights Act had to be fol­lowed even for the as­sign­ment of for­est land. This meant tak­ing con­sent and set­tling all rights be­fore the min­ing lease was signed. How­ever, by Jan­uary 2017, this pro­vi­sion was di­luted. In a no­ti­fi­ca­tion dated Jan­uary 5, 2017, the tribal af­fairs min­istry noted the con­sent of trib­als was not re­quired while as­sign­ing land but only be­fore min­ing be­gins, based on stage-2 for­est clear­ance. It stated that un­der no cir­cum­stances would the rights of trib­als and other for­est-dwellers be in­fringed upon un­til the FRA pro­vi­sions are ad­dressed later. It said if rights over part of the for­est land were as­signed to trib­als later un­der the FRA, that part would be ex­cluded from the lease area.

In a par­al­lel move, the mines min­istry also did away with the need for en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ance be­fore sign­ing leases for these mines. On Jan­uary 4, the mines min­istry said it had con­sulted the law and the en­vi­ron­ment min­istries and de­cided that the manda­tory en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ance was not re­quired for these mines be­fore sign­ing the lease agree­ment. The clear­ance can be sought at a later stage by the miners, be­fore ac­tual min­ing be­gins.

On Jan­uary 5, list­ing down all the changes, it had helped save these 300-odd mines from auc­tion, the mines min­istry wrote that “such pend­ing cases, where min­ing plan was sanc­tioned but cases were pend­ing be­cause of en­vi­ron­ment clear­ance, for­est clear­ance and tribal rights, the states have been fa­cil­i­tated by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment to be able to grant the lease ex­pe­di­tiously”.

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