The Centre has been taking several steps in recent months to guarantee that the amount of mineral mined matches that licensed and transported. Shortly after the Union Cabinet cleared the awaited new Mining Bill, S Vijay Kumar, Secretary, Union Ministry of Mines, spoke with Rai Shivapati Ray and specified how the Bill will strengthen illegal mining curbs.
Once passed, will the Mining Act help curb illegal mining?
Illegal mining finds a place among a wide range of issues in the Bill. The Act has provided deterÂrents to illegal mining, and does so at three levels: One, at the mining level: Illegal mining often occurs when there is mining outside the leased boundaries. Through a computerised mining tenement system, the Act will enable computeriÂsation of leases and thereby tracking data, which, interÂfaced with satellite data, will identify illegal mining.
Second, the Act ensures proper accounting of mateÂrial transported to a plant or port.
Third, there will be a mining regulator with powers to investigate into large scale illegal mining and proseÂcute. SpeÂcial courts will be set up to ensure speedy trial of mining cases. Mining licences will be cancelled for anyone convicted of illegal mining, and will be debarred for all future concessions.
The recent Cabinet support for this Bill – which has been through two years of drafting and intense scrutiny by the state governments, affected central ministries, industry representatives and civil society-will take it through the Parliament as well because of the governÂment's intention to strongly support mining reforms.
How has the existing National Mineral Policy succeeded in addÂreÂsÂsing a) assured right to next stage mineral concession, b) transferability of mineral concessions, and c) transparency in allotments?
Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Act ensÂure transferÂabÂility. A proÂÂsÂpÂeÂcting licÂensee will have the right to mine. SecÂÂtions 14, 22, 23, 24, and 27 prescribe how concessions will be granÂÂÂted: on first-come basis where there is no known resoÂurce; and by bidding in areas where we know there is a resource that we can attach value to. The current Act, unlike the the previous version, clearly makes bidding provisions in mining and prospecting. In case there is no data available on mineral availability in the area, the prosÂpector need not pay a bid amount.
What monitoring systems are in place for bidding processes?
Minerals are property of the state government, so finally the state is responsible for the mining of its land. That said, minerals are the property of the state but the resource of the nation. Right to Information (RTI) and Public Interest Litigations (PILs) also protect public interest. The government holds the mines in trust-people are the real owners and have the right to raise questions-including a demand for audit. So the locals' participation in this system is important to ensure manaÂgement and disposal of the resource at the right value.
If a state, for deliberate reasons or because of techÂnical incapacity or other reasons, cannot manage its resources well, the Centre is available to advise, assist and ensure proper management. We believe that the CenÂÂÂtÂÂre and the states need to work on this jointly.We have defined mechÂaÂnisms, and the national regulator will ensÂure wise manÂagement and proper application of resources.
Secondly, the National Mining Tribunal will ensure that the grant of the concession is done according to the law of the land. While it is not exactly a monitoring body, it will oversee the management of the process.
Courts, the Lokayukta and other institutions are also in place to supplement these efforts.
Do you have an estimate of the losses to the exchequer from illegal mining in the country?
No. Data depends on reported instances and several other issues. Illegal mining may also be reported because of the way resources are valued. Illegal mining in iron and manganese ore has been on the rise in the past 5-6 years and is much higher than acceptable. Some illegal mining will always be below the detection data as it may take place in remote, small village or home levÂels, and it is not possible to set up policing systems to plug those.
Illegal mining seems to be on the rise due primarily to high demand from China, which has fuelled growth of demand and also pushed up the prices. Because of this pressure of the demand and the prices, suboptimal depÂosits have also become attractive. Coupled with this, when grant of concession is delayed for eligible companÂies, mining companies sometimes don't want to wait so as not to lose the current demand. So they go ahead with mining activities. This is one form of illegal mining.
What activities constitute illegal mining?
There are various forms of mining that are classified as illegal: Mining without a licence, mining outside the licensed area, mining more than a permissible amount of mineral extraction.
The Central Empowered Committee, formÂed in 2009, including several ministries in the central govÂernment and mineral-rich state governments-meets every quarter, monitors what states are doing to control illegal mining and made suggestions. Last year, we felt a need for strengthening of the law, and so we set up a commissioned enquiry. The solutions that are proposed will come in squarely within the ambit of the Act.
What measures must the various government agencies take to arrest illegal mining?
One is that we now ask for a definition of a mining lease in terms of its GPS coordinates of a mining area for easy detection of any illegality. Second, the state govÂernments and the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) should coordinate better to see that the mine production tallies with the mining plan. When ore is transported from a mine to a plant or port, the state government shoÂuld have a computerised weigh bridge system to track the mineral right from the mine gate to the port so that any weight in excess of mined amounts will show up and will be deemed illegal.
Some states have the system in place: Gujarat and Karnataka have adopted it; Orissa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and others are following suit. Shortly, we will have a computerised ore movement system that will track the complete production from end to end. This will be a big deterrent.
Most states have many vacancies in those departÂments for geologists, which have not been filled for variÂous reasons. We have advised them to build an action plan to strengthen the state Departments of Mining and Geology. The new Act also proposes a cess, which will provide a revenue stream to states that can then invest in building up capacities in their Departments of Mining and Geology-by providing computers and technology that will help detect and control illegal mining.
We have interacted with the Railways, which has now changed the system to ensure illegal mining ore is tracked. Earlier, each wagon would be loaded separately. Now, they weigh the entire rake at one go, and tally the sum total of the weight on the loading trucks with the load on the rake.
We have also been interacting with port authorities and asked them to check cargo being loaded at the dockÂyard for state of origin and certify it for “royalty paid”.
Lastly, our system needs tightening: If someone appÂlies for a mining licence but does not obtain it for five or six years, he is fed up. There are cases in Orissa in parÂticular and in other states of inordinate delays in proÂcessing applications-even renewals. If a company's renÂewal is pending but continues mining, technically it is considered illegal mining. Our regulatory systems need to be improved and systems simplified.
By when do you see the entire nation adopting the IT model developed in Gujarat?
(n)Code seems to be working in Gujarat and many states are developing variants of the system. There is an SMS alert system and barcode reader that is valuable in recognition. It would be the state's prerogative to adopt it. Our advice to them is to adopt it immediately. These are not huge issues of fundamental software design, so it is possible to do so in a year or two.
Is “mineral resource rent tax” as in Australia applicable in India?
The Australia model is not suitable, because it includes a federal tax on a state resource. It may conflict with the Indian constitutional principles.