Devki Katu Velipe's house in Colamb village of south Goa's Sanguem taluka looks like any other tribal house in the area. Walls painted blue and green, ceilings covered with pink and orange paper streamers…
There is, however, one recent addition. In the room inside, a long, deep gash divides a wall into two halves. It has been caused by mining blasts in their area. "Things get bad during the monsoons, when the water comes in. The house can cave in anytime," says 60-year-old Devki, the eldest in the family of 22 who have been living with the ominous divide since the last three years.
The divide between the miners and the villagers, a wound they live with. A gash that hasn't gone deep enough to completely break the wall yet but one that surely threatens to.
Goa, India's smallest state, has the largest area (almost ten per cent) under its colonial legacy — mining. Its iron-ore is largely located in Bicholim, Satari and Sanguem talukas. The demand has been increasing in the last 7-8 years to meet China's — their largest market (86 per cent) — growing demand for iron-ore. In 2008-09, Goa exported over 70 per cent more ore as compared to 2003-04 and produced nearly 40 per cent more for the same years. And as demand soars internationally, Indian mining companies are looking to expand in other countries like Brazil, Latin America and South Africa in the coming time.
While the miners are laughing their way to the banks — the total profit of Goa's top five mining companies (that account for over 70 per cent of exports and production) has crossed Rs 8,000 crore — the reality is contrary on the ground. The net profit of its largest mining company (Sesa Goa) alone stands at Rs 2,798 crore, while the net revenue of the state of Goa is Rs 2,700 crore. Despite mining being touted as one of the backbones of Goa's economy, the state revenues from mining are barely 1 per cent.
Besides the industry, the top players have a stronghold on the state. In an interview to HT after a moratorium on new mining leases was imposed by the Centre in February 2010, Goa's chief minister and its mines minister, Digambar Kamat, said that infrastructure to support mining like dedicated roads should be built, though he wasn't sure how the environmental impact would be accounted for. In the assembly session in March this year, his government announced a mineral development fund in the budget after failing to implement a green cess on mining rejects that had been proposed in the last budget — a watered down policy — which sources say is because of mounting pressure from the state's mining industry.
Moreover, just before the central government placed a moratorium and ordered an environment impact assessment on mining activities in February this year, the union environment and forest ministry had cleared nearly 100 fresh mining leases. "If 110 mines are causing the damage they are, imagine the devastation if another 100 are given permission?" asks Manohar Parrikar, current leader of the opposition.
Shivanand Salgaocar, Managing Director, VM Salgaocar (one of the top mining companies) counters, "All 100 leases won't go into operation so soon. It takes time to get clearances. Euphoria is because of the frantic demand from China, which will taper off by 2012 once all projects in Australia and Brazil go into full-fledged operation. There is a heavy load on infrastructure currently. Steps are being taken by the government to build a mining corridor along a PPP model. Right now there is a bit of congestion on the roads."
But while the miners are raking it in, widespread devastation on the ground — drying paddy fields, diminishing ground water and forests, displaced wildlife, health problems — continues. (See box)
Add to that, the issue of illegal mining, which in recent times even the state government has been forced to admit to. In the Economic Survey of 2005-06, nearly 2,66,000 sq m of government land was said to have been 'illegally encroached' by mining companies. The state that contributes about 15 per cent of India's total iron-ore has about 110 iron and manganese ore mines that export 35 million tons of ore annually. According to Parrikar, Goa's ore exports exceeded its production by nearly 10 per cent in 2007-08, which rose to 17 per cent in 2008-09. "How can you export more than you produce? There's obviously massive illegal mining taking place in the state," he says.
Even the state's environment minister, Aleixo Sequeira, told the assembly in March that 85 out of 99 mine operators, which included top players like Sesa Goa, Salgaocar, Chowgule and Sociedade Fomento, were continuing mining activities in the state without the mandatory air pollution clearance — in most cases permissions had expired on Feb 28.
While 2009 became the year of 'a mad mining race' in Goa, given the growing demand, it was also the year when the state forest department was forced to survey over 40 complaints of illegal mining in forest areas it had received. And it could barely clear any. A highly placed official at one of the top mining companies, who didn't wish to be named, said that "a lot of illegal mining by companies who don't have legal leases was rampant," adding that even legal leaseholders encroach on various conditions.
Salgaocar, however, refutes this, "What irregularities? These companies have stopped mining, since their renewals are pending before different agencies. Two of my mines have been shut since 2007 — they are waiting for government clearances."
The case of Khodidas mine in Colamb, named in the list of illegal mining in forest areas, has a private reserved forest site within its lease. But it still doesn't have forest clearance, while mining activities continue. Residents say the miners have even managed to get permission from the forest department for a 400-metre wide road to transport the ore.
In another instance, Korgao village in Pernem taluka (a first for an area till date known for only its agriculture and horticulture) the government authorities declared gross illegalities in 2008 against ex-MLA and owner of the said property, Jeetendra Deshprabhu, after they found a pit had been enlarged "reportedly for augmentation of water source" without necessary approvals and 5-6 tons of ore kept near the excavated site which had been found having indications of ore deposits. Government authorities in their report said they would consider issuing a show cause notice to the owner. Kishore Naigaonkar, resident of the same taluka, says despite that, "excavations continue at nights. Villagers can't question him since it's his property, but the mining is illegal since he doesn't have a lease or the panchayat's permission." Adds Pernem's MLA Dayanand Sobte, "the government assured us that action would be taken, but nothing has happened till date. Earlier the mining happened in the day, now it's taking place at night." Deshprabhu, on the other hand, admits that his mining lease is pending with the government, but maintains he hasn't been indulging in mining. "I'm an agriculturist, not a miner. I've been only been planting coconut trees, barricading land from cattle etc. And anyway, this land doesn't come under the forest conservation act."
Roughing it out
There is simmering discontent with unlawful/excessive mining in the state: Even as Goa's Padma winners — cartoonist Mario Miranda, writer Ravindra Kelkar, musician Remo Fernandes etc — united and signed a petition against excessive mining in the state in April, about 8-10 new groups from across the mining belts have come up in the last three years. Salgaocar is scathing, "Mining is not supported by the Goan population. Tell me which activity is supported by the Goan people? Activism is justified but it differs from case to case. Can those who oppose mining provide employment to those who are working in mining? Unscrupulous operators should be stopped. You can't paint everyone with the same brush."
But for these people at the forefront, it has been a rough ride.
Sebastian Rodrigues : Blogger-activist and coordinator of GAKUVED (Gawada, Kunbi, Velip & Dhangar Federation) was arrested in 2008 for protesting against mining. Allegedly beaten up by local mining mafia. Branded a Naxalite by local political parties. Theatre person Hartman DSouza's wife Cheryl D'Souza, their daughter and her mother were arrested because they refused to be compensated for their farmlands to allow mining in the area. The family chained themselves to the trucks with support from other activists. Protests turned ugly when the local mafia beat them up, destroyed their cameras and the police watched. They were later arrested.
: In 1993, Rama and his father, whose home and paddy are on a mining lease, fought in the court and got an illegal mine closed, "The miners were selling the fertile soil from our village to another," he says. Father and son were arrested and put in jail; the case went on for 3 years. They reached a compromise, when his father demanded that the village soil be retained.
Q&A with P.K. Mukherjee, Managing Director, Sesa Goa
In the state assembly in March, Rs 2798 crore was quoted as Sesa Goa's net profit — a figure higher than the entire state revenue.
Well, in 2008-09, we made a profit of over Rs 2000 crore before tax. I don't see how the profit a company makes is relevant in this case. Probably the contention is how much is going back to the people. I don't want to get into controversy, so let the figure and context remain.
If another 100 mining leases (in addition to the 110 already in operation) are given permission, how do you read the effect on Goa's economy and impact on its environment?
It's not a question of number of leases; it's about how many people who have credentials to do this work — then the impact would be different. You have to look at things like production, acreage etc. Mining leases in Goa are fragmented; it depends on the size, volume, pressure on existing infrastructure — the environmental clearance considers aspects like water, which land can be used for dumping rejects etc. The laws are strong, now they should be firmly imposed.
Why has there been a sharp rise in voices against mining in the state in recent years?
Basically the voices are coming for iron-ore, the limelight commodity now. It's an abnormal profit situation, so it becomes tough to control the fall out which are unscrupulous people coming in. India has seen a number of national and international NGOs come in. Without getting into their merits or demerits, their only business is activism.
There have been various instances of illegal mining in Goa, one of the top mining companies has said that even legal lease-holders flout necessary conditions.
Illegalities have to be dealt with an iron hand. Leaseholders are legal; their leases are given environmental approval. There's no point shouting to enforce the law, punishment must be given. Our civil and criminal courts are good.
Sesa Goa was named by the state's environment minister in the assembly last week as one of the 85 out of 99 companies that are operating without air pollution clearance.
Every lease has a pollution clearance given by the state pollution board under the air and water act every 2-3 years. We've applied for our renewal but it hasn't yet come officially. If it's not rejected or given a show cause notice, it's deemed as renewal. If we don't have clearance yet, we don't have rejection either.
Devastation caused by mining — illegal or otherwise — in the state
Domain d'souza, 38, who lives with her family of eight (including four children) in Bandhara, Colamb, says the dust pollution has led to the kids developing asthma, sore throats and frequent colds in the last 4-5 years. Dr A. Prabhudesai, a resident doctor of the village, says he sees an average of 2-4 children a day with respiratory complaints. "There's a condition called pneumoconiosis in which insoluble dust settles in the lungs. These problems would be common even in a place like Mumbai but here the additional factor is mining dust. Children in the village are particularly susceptible to it." Then there are other issues. "Mining has cut the inside forests, getting firewood is a problem. There's no grass left for cows to graze. Mining agents fight and threaten, give alcohol to villagersÖ Hardly 6-8 people from the village work in the mines, the rest 30 odd who work in security and operations are from outside," says D'souza.
Milagrin Antaio, 45, worked in a manganese mine for ten years, earning Rs 10-15/day. He quit six years back when the mine was taken over by one of the biggies and "machines and cheaper labour from Karnataka" were brought in. "Now even workers from Jharkhand have come here after everything of theirs has been destroyed," he says.
Forty something Rama Veilip, who has been on the forefront of opposing illegal mining in that area, says 1510 is a figure he'll not forget — out of Colamb's total area of 1929 hectares, 1510 hectares is under mining. It's also the year that the Portuguese came to India. He says that mining has led to widespread deforestation, "hence rainwater can't be held. From 350-inches of rainfall a decade back, we get barely 100 inches now. Last June there was no water. If there are no trees, where will we go for cover? Around 30 ha of forest have been cut between 2006-2010. Tigers have disappeared. The mines have gone in too deep, we don't get drinking water. If there's no water, there's nothing."
Nearly 80 families live around these mines, the closest ones are the worst affected. Four families were shifted last year wherein compensation between Rs 2 and 7 lakh was given. "Now to take the people into confidence, miners have spent a crore on concretising the laterite Shantadurga temple of the village," says Velip. "Besides that, they have been giving free umbrellas, bags, books etc to children, while people are eating mining dust, drinking polluted water."
UK-based Goan and anti-mining activist Carmen Miranda says Colamb is an area where there seems to be manipulations to usurp land from local farmers and government forests for mining. "But because it is far out, the locals feel they are fighting a losing battle against advancing mining projects."
For about 37-odd families in Bandwada, Pissurlem of north Goa's Satari taluka this is the last season of their ancestral address. Come May 2010, and they will move to Shantinagar. Their old homes stand on the land that needs to be mined for more ore. This village, where 4000 people are dependent on 80 acres of land for their livelihood, is surrounded by a mining belt where mining has been going on for many years.
Erstwhile farmer Gurudas Lakshman Gawde, 45, who has been operating a seasonal tea stall (November — May) since the last 3 years near one of the mines, is one of the future residents. He has been given Rs 6 lakh. "I was born and brought up in this area but will have to move since everyone else is going too. Here, my paddy work stopped almost ten years back when the springs started drying up. It's not the same with a tea-stall," he says. Moving homes is not new to this village. Sitarama Savaikar, 60, is also moving with her family this May. Her son, a subcontractor in one of the mines, says cracks have developed in the ground where they lived earlier. "Land slide can happen anytime plus mining is expanding in this area since there's ore beneath this village."
Harish D. Rajani, spokesperson for Damodar Mangalji, the mine company that's shifting the families, was first reluctant to speak on the issue since they didn't want "publicity" for their "effort". Later he said it was their "duty" to do this, and on the issue of people losing their traditional occupation — agriculture — he claimed that every villager there had a job in the mining companies. "We have the required clearances and have spent many crore rupees on building parapet walls and other things."
Besides agriculture, dairy farming here has taken a hit too. The Jogeshwari Doodhutpadak Sanstha shut down eight years ago. Tarabai Abasaheb Desai, 55, has 10 cows today from 40 ten years back. "The yield has gone from 25 litres to 2 litres. Grass, fodder and water for the cattle have lessened. We had a spring near our house, which has dried up. Now we get a tanker to supply water," she says.
Hanumant Parab, a long-standing activist, reminisces about the dried up Pandikatchi talli, a water body in the area that used to irrigate 80 acres of land till a decade back. "It's choked with mining silt. Most springs in the area have dried up. Scientifically one can't generate destroyed village resources. Cashew, acacia and coconut trees have been cut down. All mining rejects are dumped on a hill owned by the government. The ideal height for it should be 60 metres but it goes up to 150-200 metres. Vaghure village, known for its tigers, has seen them disappear once the blasting started.
A drive through the village and you can see it. Deeply sliced hill slopes, ore/dump-laden trucks roughly whirring past every few minutes, trees and plants bowed under dry red dust, faded blue water drums in place of wells, which have dried upÖ
Parab says, "Old mines have already destroyed the village. New ones will let it exist only on the map now. For a three km radius mine, the impact is up to five km. We even had a mining induced flood in 2000. We don't want new mining, others benefit, but the village loses. What is the solution for the village after 15 years when the ore is finished?"
Interview with Jairam Ramesh, then environment minister
'Cannot deny links between forest depts & mining lobbies'
Jairam Ramesh, 56, has been India's environment and forest minister since May 2009. His ministry gives environmental clearances -- mandatory for all mining activities. In November last year, it rejected coal-mining proposals in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. In April, activist groups along the Western Ghats wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi praising the ministerís efforts to protect India's forests.
The question that's on everyone's minds -- is the earth really getting warmer?
Anecdotally it certainly seems to be true. Every time the temperature shoots up to over 42 degrees, and since all of us are amateur scientists we think it isÖ but is there incontrovertible evidence to show that the world is getting warmer? Well, responsible scientist like James Hansen of NASA is on record as having said that the earth is getting warmer. Rainfall patterns have certainly become irregular - every time I go to Cherapunji for example, people tell me it's raining much less than what it used to earlier. So yes, perhaps, the earth is getting warmer.
Let's talk about mining. We've been seeing cases of rampant and illegal mining tumbling out - it has become a serious issue now. How has your ministry responded to it?
Well, we have identified regions of our country where clearly mining has reached limits that may cross the carrying capacity of that region. Goa is a classic example, where we have put a moratorium on future mining. Western Ghats is another area where I've set up an expert panel under the chairmanship of Madhav Gadgil, one of our top ecologists who is identifying the critical areas in the Western Ghats. Then we have put critical mining projects on hold, like the Vedanta project is still under examination. We are much more careful now. We've put a number of coal mining projects on hold. We've identified go areas and no go areas and have actually rejected a number of coal mining openings in no-go areas particularly in Chattisgarh. But we need to mine. Let us be very clear. Mining activity cannot come to a halt. But illegal mining must stop. We have taken very tough action. I've written to the chief minister of Karnataka for example where a lot of illegal mining has taken place, we've cancelled a number of mining leases also in Karnataka. Mining must go on, legal mining must go on. But even where there is legal mining and if it is in dense forest areas, then we have to have a second look as is in the case of coal. It's a ticklish issue. But unfortunately in our country, mining has not been done in an ecologically sustainable manner so far...
Is there a sustainable way to mine?
Well yeah, the Germans have done it, the Americans have also done it. Even in India, Neyveli Lignite is a good example of sustainable mining. Singareni is another one in Andhra Pradesh. If we are more sensitive we can come up with ways. But we have to be careful of mining in tribal areas particularly - where you have to look at issues like who's going to be the beneficiary of those mines.
How do you read mining scams like the Reddy brothers in Karnataka, Madhu Koda in Jharkhand?
I can't do anything about the scams. I can only enforce the acts, which are the Environment Protection Act, the Forest Conservation Act and the Wildlife Protection Act. Those are the only three instruments I have. I can't go after Madhu Kodas, if he has violated any of these acts, then I can take action.
Ok, so how does the ministry look at the state forest departments who are in collusion with mining lobbies in their states?
Well, I cannot deny the collusion. Whether it's Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya PradeshÖany state, there is collusion. But then remember state governments are also under pressure to show results of investment. Chief ministers want to get private investment; they want to show their economies are doing well.
In the case of Goa, recently there were two approved projects that your ministry overturned, and there is enough material to prove that the forest department of Goa is hand-in-glove with the mining lobby there. How does the ministry look at this?
You take tough action.
What kind of tough action?
We've issued a moratorium on mining, we're rejecting projects, what more action do you want?
What about action against such officials?
There is a fine constitutional balance to be protected here. I can only bring it to the notice of the state government. They have to take action against its officials. If there are officers in the forest department, in our regional offices, then we can take action against them.
What about forest departments denying the presence of tigers in certain areas because they don't want buffer zones that would affect mining? Again taking an example from Goa.
Yes, that and even Maharashtra has been very slow in declaring buffer zones around Tadoba. Traditionally, state governments have been reluctant to declare buffer zones because it would preclude mining activity. But I've also rejected a proposal of opening a coalmine in Tadoba buffer zone in Maharashtra. I think the signals that have gone from the ministry are strong. But the idea is not to stop mining activity or bring economic activity to a halt. The idea is to deal with illegalities in mining and ensure mining doesn't violate the three acts under the environment ministry.
So how do you look at preventing illegal mining?
We've taken action against Oubalapuram where there were allegations of illegalities. We've ordered a survey. Supreme Court has also intervened. I've written to the chief minister of Karnataka where there are a lot of allegations of illegal mining. If they are violating the forest conservation act we can take action against them.
Let's talk about the dams coming up in Arunachal Pradesh.
See, on the same river you can have a series of projects and we know the project wise assessment is not going to work, so we must look at the carrying capacity of the river. We have done this for the north Teesta, we have put a halt to five projects. Similarly we have made recommendations on abandoning projects on the Bhagirathi because you need a minimum environmental flow in these critical rivers. The idea is not to stop dam construction per se but the idea is to say look at balance between development and environment. And where these projects are essential, let's do them in an ecological sustainable manner.
Forest clearances are required for mining. How does the ministry look at these? People on the ground in Goa have said that mining continues in places without relevant leases.
That the state government has to take action. All I can say is if a project has got clearance under the Forest Clearance Act, it's not an illegal project. An illegal one is where they don't have permission. It'll start with the local authorities where the state governments have to play their role. I can't be a policeman al the time, only a facilitator. The laws are central; the legislation has to be local.
How does one enforce them?
The state government has to enforce them. The machinery is under them.
In case there's violation, how does the ministry deal with it?
We can certainly take action if there s violation. In the case of Vedanta, we sent a team, they gave a report, we are examining that report. Where reports come to us of violations we don't have the machinery to check ourselves so we send teams. I have sent teams to Kerala, on Vedanta, Goa, Karnataka.
How has the coastal regulation zone (CRZ) played out on India's coastline over the years?
We have a CRZ 1991, we have had 25 amendments to it. We're now in the process of Draft CRZ 2010, which will clean up a lot of the CRZ 1991. We don't want to weaken CRZ 91. We're coming out with CRZ 2010, which will strengthen CRZ 1991 and recognise that certain areas in India that need specialised treatment. For example Goa, Kerala, Mumbai, Andamanas, Lakshwadeep. You may have an overarching CRZ but for each of these ecologically special areas, it'll require special treatment. The Draft will be put in public domain; I've already had five public consultations in Goa, Mumbai, Cochin, Puri and Chennai with the public and fishermen...
The mining policy in India is not legally bound. But the government is in a position to regulate activities. How does the government look at the scams?
I can't do anything about the scams, my mandate is limited. I have to ensure the laws are not violated. You're asking larger questions of the nexus of mining and politics, I can't get into that, I don't have the wherewithal.
But the environment ministry plays a big role in clearing mining leases...
The environment ministry's mandate is to ensure the three laws are complied with. We can't get into corruption act, money laundering etc, that's not our mandate. We have to see that our troika of acts is implemented in letter and spirit.
What kind of development is the environment ministry looking at?
There are three responses I will have to any project - one is yes, second is yes but, third is no. This can't be a 'yes yes' ministry, it can't be a 'no no' ministry, it has to be a nuanced ministry. The nuance is that today a bulk of the projects are in the 'yes' category, a good number in the 'yes but' category, a few in the 'no' category. The headlines only end up on the 'no' category, the media will focus on clashes between two ministries. The fact is that this ministry clears 95 per cent projects from an environmental point of view, over 85 per cent from the forest point of view...
Then how do some projects get clearances faster than they should?
Some projects have had push and pulls. Today the system is transparent, I have removed all conflict of interests, I have changed chairmen of environmental appraisal committees. Today all information on each pending project is on the website, we are making it as business like as possible.
How are you planning to crackdown on illegal mining projects?
We will be more careful...
How can violations by forest departments in states be dealt with?
Not clearing projects without feasibility studies, we will take action if there are violations. Look at them more carefully. I have turned down many proposals recommended by forest advisory committees. We plan to do more studies. It all starts from the top; I have to send the right signals.
What about sustainable economic development?
There's no magic formula. All three have to form part of finding the balance, find the golden mean. You can't be theological, you need development, you need projects, they create employment.
India is looking to increase its forest cover and yet there's rampant mining taking place. How do we reconcile these two?
We have identified go and no-go areas especially in the case of coal mining in nine major coalfields. Almost 35 per cent of coal blocks are in no go areas, where there is high tree density and forest cover. We haven't done this for iron ore yet. Coal is serious because we have to double our coal production in the next 7-8 years. Incremental coal is going to come from forest areas -- Orissa, Jharkhand, MP, Chattisgarh...
How will you look at illegal mining?
Stop illegal mining. Courts. Only way to do it. Rule of law prevails.
Interview with BK Handique, then mines minister
'Mining companies can't get everything for free'
Bijoy Krishna Handique, 75, is a cabinet minister in the ministry of mines and ministry of development of North Eastern Region (India). He took over in May 2009. Last year, he introduced the ad valorem royalty on mining, which nearly doubled the state governments' earning from mining. After the Reddy brothers scam, 18 mining licenses were cancelled in Bellary last week. He was unwell owing to a lung infection, but took out time to speak to HT. Union Minister for Mines, Bijoy Krishna Handique, speaks to HT Corespondent Shalini Singh.
A new mines and minerals bill of the ministry, believed to be opposed by the mining lobby, seeks to give 26 per cent of profits from mining to locals and also to make them stakeholders. How will they be identified? How will the same be disbursed?
We are going to make annuity a part of the new law. You see we have deprived people of their land and so many things. They should get something for that. Annuity has been found attractive, and it appears to do justice. We want that kind of justice that works for local people. The law will have all these details, which are being worked out in near course of time. We're going to find out the areas where people are going to mine and find out what kind of agitation, cultivation etc is going on. There will be a system in place for everything. We are deeply interested in the welfare of the host population.
Why did the govt take so long to implement the 10% royalty rule replacing the fixed levy per tonne? How was the 10% level fixed?
We are going to change the law, but somewhere the matter is getting stuck. The law ministry has to also find time for this. We met 2-3 days back and we'll decide finally what all has to be a part of the new law. Till you have a new law, you can't accommodate all these archaic things. You must take the right things. The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 is an archaic law. There are certain things within that which are contradictory to each other. We want there should be a new law, new thinking, which is most important. There should be new thinking for the people, for the local host population and for their benefit.
The draft policy mentions that special care will be taken of the hosts and tribal population, and that project-affected people will be protected through certain packages. Please elaborate.
That has to be done. The packages have to be there. This annuity has been our suggestion. There are some people who may not like it so much but we are committed to this.
Is it the mining companies who don't like this?
Money has to be given by the mining companies. They cannot get everything free. Many of them don't like the aspects of annuity etc. but you're taking their property for good and you won't give them anything? The naxals have started talking about this. People have to be given justice, you can't keep everything to yourself and give them nothing.
Are we looking at a more people oriented mining policy?
Yes, exactly. It will be oriented towards development, towards common people on whose land they make their property. Mind that, it's on their land. Ultimately, they are not getting anything. No one is going to accept that. Now things are becoming different. even foreign countries like Canada and Australia are conscious about doing justice to the people. This is nature, you don't have a right to ravage the nature. Who will repair it? It's compulsory for the mining companies to repair nature. A sustainable development framework has been included in the new draft act; this was not there in the old act...
Are we redefining development as far as mining is concerned?
Yes, in the new act we have decided to do things in a committed way. Top priority is justice to the people.
In other countries, there are separate companies for prospecting and mining. In India, they are the same. Are we looking at a new way in which mining licenses will be given now?
No, licenses will be as they are. We want development to be seamless. Every time a mining company can't come and waste their money - the rights to the next stage must be automatic. There should be no second thoughts on that. It was because of this that foreign companies didn't want to come to India. They didn't accept the policy formulated in 2008. I happened to be the minister of state for mines then. I have also seen that people did come from different countries and said that we have got a promise from your country that justice will be given to the people.
There is no unified procedure currently to get environmental clearances for mining. Are we looking at a greater synchronisation between the environment and mines ministry in the future?
Yes, there will be greater synchronisation between the two. Once we correct things in the old act, which is very old, we'll start with new act. We have decided to go in for a new act instead of an amendment to the old one. There has to be new legislation.
Why did you feel the need for a new act?
Things must be understood in their context. Transparency is an important aspect. We want foreign companies to invest in India through foreign direct investment (FDI). If they are not convinced that we are transparent why should they come? Their message is clear, you change your policy or we don't come. FDI is big money, unless you have big money, there can't be new technology. And we want new technology. With new technology, we can bring improvement.
Land acquisition is the biggest issue today as far as mining is concerned. Tribals are opposing mining. This would scare away foreign investors. How is the ministry looking at these aspects?
So far the investors haven't shown any worry. This company from South Korea - Posco has been fighting back since 4-5 years. They still say they are hopeful and that it's important to take the local population into confidence. Land acquisition has been going on for 4-5 years now. If people are convinced this is going to benefit them then what the mining companies are doing in 4-5 years, they can finish in one year. These companies are paying off in informal/illegal ways to naxals etc, all this will come down. Day to day operations will come down. People will not want to disturb the mining activity. Posco believes that people are on our side but if you want to loot them, you don't want to give them annuity, they'll say what right you have to take what's ours? If local people sense your commitment, why should they go against the mining management?
How is the ministry looking at illegal mining?
Illegal mining is a great problem. It's very difficult to tackle. So far, all the mines belong to the states and that's the cause of everything. The actual rights go to the state. All approvals are given by state governments to mining companies. We have signed some MoUs with Nambia and they say they have the same problems of illegal mining -- people have been exploited etc. We are trying to find ways to deal with it.
What is your take on the recent mining scams -- Reddy brothers in Karnataka, Madhu Koda etc?
Karnataka has huge report of illegal mining. Whether we make a new law or not, illegality of mining has to be somehow tackled if you want peace and harmony in this society. That's the only civilised way.
What are some of the immediate steps? How does one prevent scams?
The Indian Bureau of Mines has undertaken inspections. In the new act, there will be provisions to contain illegal mining. In this, individuals and society as whole can file reports against illegal mining. As of now only state government representatives can file complaints. The new act will help us do that. State governments are lessers n lessees, one couldn't do much. Now we have had IBM going that extra step this time -- they have identified 120 illegal mines and suspended several.
Goa doesn't figure in that list, though there have been several cases of illegal mining?
Goa is a high profile state. In Orissa mining may be going on in 80 percent of the places, but it's not reported, so there's not much reaction. Goa has high density of population, high literacy, even a little problem comes into the media. Illegal is when they extract where they don't have licenses or permissions. Goa mostly has pollution problems and pollution won't be reported in illegal mining. I'm proud of my ministry having got this new scheme to detect illegal mining -- remote sensing agency. People should know what we are doing. If people think everyone is indulging in illegal mining, they will lose faith in the system, in us.
What has been the mining industry's response to the new act?
It has been mixed. They are happy with the seamless transition from reconnaissance to prospecting to mining lease. Secondly, the transferability of tenement. They can sell their lease now not like presently where someone else is mining in someone else's name. Responsibility will be there. You can transfer your lease officially you're your home or property. Thirdly, we are establishing tribunals. If you filed an application before the state government and they are sitting on it for years, after two months only you can go to tribunal which will dispose off cases. The companies are slightly upset because no business person wants to commit to things like annuity, compensation, CSR etc.
What does the ministry mean by sustainable mining? How will it be implemented?
Sustainable development framework will have three components. One, social sustainability benefits to people directly. Two, environmental sustainability and three, sustainability in economic activity of mining. We want zero waste mining. Whatever you're taking from mother earth, you should not waste in the process. Put the latest technology/machinery and also plan in such a way that recovery is maximum, it shouldn't be that whatever minerals are there you finish them in 30 years and then look to import them. A system will be in place, the ministry has engaged a consultant where the world's best standards practices in sustainable development in mining, whatever is relevant to India will be taken. Sustainable development has to be part of the mining plan. Any kind of violation of social sustainability will lead to automatic cancellation of the lease. IBM has cancelled 40 licenses in last 6 months. State governments are not doing many things, so IBM has been directed to do this. As many as 18 mines in Bellary were cancelled a week back.
What are the figures for state and centre from mining?
Mines and minerals are the states' wealth, which get royalty from it. Earlier it was Rs. 2,000 crore per year for all the states. We introduced the ad valorem royalty, in which it increased to Rs. 4000 crores and now this will further increase. Goa saw an increase of nearly 300 crores and for a small state like that, they were happy. Earlier only mining companies benefited, now it must benefit everyone.
- The report was done under the aegis of CSE Media fellowships in 2010. The complete version is also available on: https://cdn.cseindia.org/userfiles/goa%20mining.pdf
- Parts of this report appeared in the Hindustan Times: http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/mine-or-yours/article1-544184.aspx
- Interview with the then environment minister: http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/India/Cannot-deny-links-between-forest-depts-amp-mining-lobbies/Article1-544119.aspx
- Interview with then mines minister: http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/India/Mining-companies-can-t-get-everything-for-free-Handique/Article1-544123.aspx