Minor no more

Environment ministry regulates mining of minor minerals, finally

 
By Srestha Banerjee, Anupam Chakravartty
Last Updated: Thursday 11 June 2015

Minor no more

Braj Mohan Yadav

Sitting pretty over a Supreme Court order for almost a year and a half, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has finally moved its muscle to regulate mining of minor minerals such as sand, gravel, brick-earth, mud and other stones mostly used in construction. Their indiscriminate mining has caused extensive damage to the environment. While sand mining has scarred the rivers, removal of boulders and pebbles from riverbanks has made many areas susceptible to floods. Brick-earth mining and soil excavation have ruined fertile land.

On February 27, 2012, the apex court gave MoEF absolute authority to grant and renew lease for mining minor minerals in area less than 5 hectares (ha). MoEF sent office memorandums to state governments asking them to regulate mining of minor minerals.

But the ministry was pushed to the wall when the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned sand mining on August 5, coastal sand mining on August 14, and brick-earth mining on September 28, this year, without environmental clearance from MoEF, as ordered by the Supreme Court. NGT imposed a blanket ban on mining of all minor minerals till environmental clearance was acquired from MoEF.

The slew of orders forced MoEF to amend its Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006 on September 9, and state that mining of minor minerals in land leases less than 5 ha will not be allowed without clearance from SEIAA. For the first time, minor minerals now figure in the EIA notification and mining in less than 5 ha is regulated (see ‘Why the reluctance?’,).

Big blow to illegal mining

Mining of minor minerals being a state subject, state governments expressed concern over the Supreme Court and NGT orders. The blanket ban was a big blow for states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. According to Indian Bureau of Mines, Rajasthan produces 65 per cent of the country’s total production of minor minerals. Madhya Pradesh generates Rs 140 crore only from mining sand.

The Madhya Pradesh government pleaded before NGT that instead of SEIAA, district-level committees be allowed to give environmental clearance for mining proposals. At this, NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar reportedly asked, “Can you enact a law which would be in conflict with the Central law?”

Meanwhile, the Madhya Pradesh State Mining Corporation (MPSMC) has filed a petition in NGT. The corporation has petitioned that according to Madhya Pradesh’s Minor Mineral Rules, MPSMC, a public sector undertaking (PSU), has the sole right to mine minerals in the state. The right to mine minor minerals should, therefore, lie with the PSU. The petition also states that the government is incurring huge revenue losses because of the blanket ban.

But the petition reveals that most of the sand mining contracts till 2015, worth crores of rupees, have been given to Jaipur-based Shiva Corporation, which has been involved in cases of illegal sand mining.

This apart, in 2011 MPSMC’s contractors were accused of murdering a civil servant in Mahoba district in the state. Ajay Singh, leader of the opposition in the state Assembly, has accused the state mining corporation of being hand-in-glove with Shiva Corporation. “Government diluted the environmental clearance process to favour companies like Shiva Corporation,” he says. On March 23, 2013, the Madhya Pradesh government amended the minor mineral rules. Giving leeway to mine lease owners, it allowed them to function for a year even if they did not have their mining plans ready. What’s more, it stated that if the regional department of geology and mines failed to approve mining leases within 90 days, the plans would be considered approved.

Activist Soumitro Roy, who campaigns against indiscriminate sand mining, says Supreme Court and NGT orders have had no impact on illegal mining. “There are more than 150 companies operating in Madhya Pradesh which take contracts from MPSMC. Even after Supreme Court’s ban in 2012, these companies continued taking out sand and other minor minerals from Hoshangabad, Sihore and Raysen districts without environmental clearances,” he says.

At a meeting organised by the mines ministry on April 12, 2013, representatives of nine states—Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Odisha, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu—said the process of obtaining clearance from MoEF is too complicated. They asked for a single window clearance for all kinds of leases.

Small mine owners usually do not have the capacity to go through the process of obtaining environmental clearances, they said. Nihar Ranjan Sahu, senior environmental engineer, Odisha Pollution Control Board, says, “Small lease holders often do not have the capacity or the understanding to undertake or engage a consultant to develop Environmental Management Plans (EMPs), essential for clearance from the ministry. Handholding on part of the district collector is, therefore, necessary at this stage.”

Other state representatives at the meeting said that small lease holders’ inability to achieve environmental clearance and tight regulations would increase incidences of illegal mining of minor minerals.

But illegal activities are rampant in states and a lot of it is facilitated by state governments, MoEF said at the Supreme Court during the Deepak Kumar v states of Punjab and Haryana case, which led to the landmark judgement on minor minerals. It is a known fact that companies broke their lease areas so each lease remained below 5 ha. This was done to circumvent the environment clearance process. MoEF submitted an affidavit on November 23, 2011, stating that “where the mining area is homogenous, physically proximate end on identifiable piece of land of 5 ha or more, it should not be broken into smaller sizes to circumvent the EIA Notification, 2006 because it is not applicable to mining projects having lease area of less than 5 ha.”

MoEF delays, say states

Some states have initiated steps to follow the Supreme Court order and amend their mining rules (see ‘States regulate small mines’). However, most have accused MoEF of delaying work.

MoEF claims that it cannot be held responsible for the delay in implementing the Supreme Court order. “The process of consultation with ongoing litigation in courts takes time, so it was delayed,” says Ajay Tyagi, joint secretary, MoEF.

The Rajasthan government has submitted to the NGT that on June 19, 2012, the department of mines and geology proposed amendment to the Rajasthan Minor Mineral Concession Rules, 1986. It regulated grant of mining leases and quarry licenses for minor minerals. It also proposed EMPs for small mining clusters. The EMP would address concerns such as removal and utilisation of top soil, storage of overburdens, reclamation and rehabilitation of lands, precaution against air pollution, water management and restoration of flora. But MoEF has not cleared a single proposal of the new regulatory regime, D S Sodha of geology and mining department has submitted to NGT.

Tamil Nadu, where large-scale mining of coastal sand occurs due to the presence of rare earth elements, has also proposed amendments to its mining rules, says Atul Anand, commissioner for geology and mining in the state. But the proposals have not been cleared by the state authorities.

V Sundaram, retired bureaucrat in Tamil Nadu, has alleged that Rs 96,000 crore worth monazite has been illegally exported by private beach sands manufacturers to various countries. India is the third largest producer of monazite, an ore found mostly in the beach sands of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It is from monazite that thorium, a radioactive element, is extracted. Following such complaints, the state government appointed a three-member team to investigate illegal mining of monazite in Kanyakumari, Tirunelvelli and Tuticorin. The report is still awaited.

Attempts to regulate minor minerals have brought sand and mud, crucial for the construction industry, under the environmental clearance process.

According to the urban development ministry, the country was short of 18.73 million housing units in 2012. The shortage will only increase in the coming years. Rising demand may lead to rampant illegal mining of minor minerals. Can MoEF regulate them to safeguard the environment? Playing proactive may help.

States regulate small mines
 
After Supreme Court made Centre’s approval for mining mandatory, states initiated steps to amend their rules

RAJASTHAN On June 19, 2012, department of mines and geology proposed to amend the Rajasthan Minor Mineral Concession Rules, 1986. It decided to form clusters of small mines comprising areas with mining leases, quarry licences or short-term permits, and develop Environmental Management Plans (EMPs) for them. The area of any cluster must not exceed 5,000 ha. For clusters less than 5 ha, an association would be formed, which would be responsible for the EMP. The EMP would be submitted to the district-level environmental committee for approval. The association would also be responsible for the implementation of EMP.

In case of non-compliance, the mining engineer can stop all mining operations following a 30-day notice. Mining operations will be allowed only after the EMP is implemented.

GOA In August 2012, Minor Mineral Concession Rules, 1985 was amended and called Goa Minor Mineral Concession (Amendment) Rules, 2012. It states, “Environmental clearance for cluster of minor mineral leases from the core area of quarrying for 5 km radius, having area less than 50 ha, shall be required from the Goa SEIAA (State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority) or such other authority”. The amendment also mentions that restrictions will be imposed on the “depth up to which quarrying operations can be carried out in any area on a case to case basis”. For small mines, the amendment suggests formation of clusters and development of Environmental Management Plan.

ODISHA The Forest and Environment Department issued an order on November 8, 2012, which brought all mines less than 5 ha under Category B2 (see ‘Timeline’ p20 for explanation of Category B2). Nihar Ranjan Sahu, senior environmental engineer at Odisha Pollution Control Board, says it was done to simplify the procedure to get environmental clearances. The apex court has ordered that the environment ministry should clear all applications for mining below 5 ha within 10 days.

MAHARASHTRA The State Environment Assessment Committee met on January 17, 2013, where it decided that cluster-wise approach should be adopted to appraise extraction proposals for all minor minerals, including sand and stone extraction. It also suggested a strategy to appraise minor mineral proposals till mining rules are finalised by the state government.

PUNJAB One of the first states to have formed district-level committees for approval of mining plans after it framed new minor mineral rules on March 8, 2013. Each committee is headed by the district collector and comprises members of block development committees. Mining officials approve or reject EMPs and mining plans of mine operators. While EMPs for smaller mines measuring less than 5 ha are forwarded to SIEAA, mining plans are approved by the geological and mining department.

 

Why the reluctance?
 
After several rounds of amendments and office memorandums the environment ministry finally regulated mining of minor minerals

SEPTEMBER 14, 2006
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) introduced

Clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) becomes mandatory for mines greater than or equal to 50 hectares (ha), classified as Category A projects. For mining in Category B projects— measuring between 50 ha and 5 ha—clearance is required from the state’s EIA authority. Category B is divided into B1 and B2. The two sub-categories were determined by State-level Expert Appraisal Committee. Projects that require EIA are categorised as B1 and the rest, which do not require EIA, as B2. There is no regulation for mines smaller than 5 ha.

DECEMBER 1, 2009
First amendment

The amendment divides mine lease areas into two categories—coal mine and non-coal mine. Coal mine areas greater than or equal to 150 ha are brought under Category A. Non-coal mining leases between 5 ha and 50 ha remain under Category B. Again, the EIA notification has no mention of minor minerals and does not regulate mining in land less than 5 ha.

MAY 18, 2012
First office memorandum

In the Deepak Kumar v states of Punjab and Haryana case, the apex court ordered, “Leases of minor minerals, including their renewal for an area of less than 5 ha, be granted by the states/union territories only after getting environmental clearance from the MoEF.” MoEF sends office memorandum to all states asking them to follow the apex court order and seek clearances from State-level Environmental Impact Assessment Agency.

JUNE 24, 2013
Second office memorandum

Supreme Court banned borrowing/ excavation of earth, especially clay and soil. After complaints from industry, MoEF brought all such projects less than 5 ha under Category B2. If such projects were clustered leading to the total area more than or equal to 5 ha, the land would come under Category B1.

SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
Minor minerals recognised

After National Green Tribunal imposed ban on mining of sand, coastal sand, brick-earth and mud, MoEF amended EIA, 2006. For the first time, it mentioned minor minerals and brought them under a special category within the previous distinction of coal and non-coal areas. As per the new notification, leases less than 50 ha for minor minerals would be considered Category B.

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