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All we need is a monitoring body, not new laws or technology

All we need is a monitoring body, not new laws or technology

Without an enforcement agency to constantly monitor the landscape, mines will continue to be exploited, NN Gautam, Advisor, ACB (India), and former Advisor to Union Ministry of Coal, tells Shashidhar Nanjundaiah.

What policies do we need that can curb illegal mining and also not block transportation?
The term illegal means that there is either conn­ivance or a laxity in enforcement. This is a governance issue a corruption issue. Illegal mining can be like land encroach­ment, where villagers may not take recourse to a syst­­em, nor obtain permissions. Where it is more org­anised, as in parts of Meghalaya, it is illegal but it is unto a different law altogether.

There, the pro­blem is that they have obtained the land rights by an­c­estry, and are not required to abide by any of the pre­valent systems. There is a clear contradiction in the law itself. The state government does not want to scrap that law. The production from that land (from mining) is not even reported.

If this is how illegal greenfield mining happens, how about “brownfield” illegality, when a mining company simply expands its jurisdiction illegally?
This happens simply because we are not providing a proper arrangement of enforcement of the permissions. If something is illegal, the only thing that can be wrong is the fact that the enforcement is weak. When an allo­tment is made based on mining details provided, I am still not clear on who is supposed to ensure that the plan is followed. There is no organised mechanism at all for monitoring the activity.

Who do you think should take or be given the responsibility of monitoring?  
The Directorate General of Mining Safety is supp­osed to, but they have decided to restrict themselves only to the safety aspects. They don’t bother to check what was given in the mining plan versus what is being implemented by the mining company. So again, it is a question of governance. Secondly, the people who are supposed to be doing the governance are fully aware of everything but are not bothered.

CBI used satellite images to track land that they have claimed is illegally min­ed by the Reddy brothers. Should this technology be adopted as a standard procedure?
It is not even necessary. It is very easy to find out a violation. But without authority, agencies do not want to tread there. I suggested to the government to assign monitoring of mines to the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute, but several questions were raised including where the money would come from. The Coal Ministry refers any cases for technical details. When coal was not yet nati­onalised, there existed a Coal Controller with wide powers. However, with nationalisation, the government felt that such a watchdog was unnecessary for the public sector companies. Such a controller is necessary to con­trol norms as well as illegal operations. It is not the question of who will do it. The Parliament can pass an Act but does not sell you nuts and bolts. Rules are regu­lations are formulated under it. In those rules and regu­lations, aspects have been missing. It is time to revisit it.

Karnataka has banned iron ore export and banned mining in two mining districts. Do you think this is the effect of a tool in curbing illegal mining?
Let me give you an example: When you give per­mis­sion for mining we don’t factor in any extra production. Out of a stipulated amount of mining, it is possible to extract more and report less. There is no working mech­anism to compare the amounts, and we go merely by the reports. The government has become a facilitator, but then who will enforce the laws? The government needs to step in because in a dispute between two parties, a third party, ie, the common man, is deeply affected.

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