Development raises questions about accountability of DMF operations, leaving out mining-affected people
An inquiry report sought by the Chhattisgarh tribal welfare department on works undertaken through the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) in Korba has revealed massive irregularities with work sanctions.
These include duplication in projects sanctioned, over-budgeting, tenders awarded for works without any technical review, and even transfer of land for projects without required documentation. All these have happened largely in 2016-2017.
The main accused, Shrikant Dubey, was an official and a member of the DMF governing council at that time. Dubey was the assistant commissioner of the district tribal welfare department and also functioning as the DMF nodal of Korba.
It has been alleged that Dubey awarded most of the sanctions, particularly related to education, through the district tribal welfare department, raising the scope of pilferage.
Kiran Kaushal, collector and district magistrate of Korba, said: “An enquiry committee has been set up to look into the issue”. A three-member committee headed by additional district magistrate Priyanka Mahobia has been formed. Kaushal said “necessary action will be taken based on the committee report”.
The development in Korba brings into question the transparency and accountability of DMF operations. “Not just Korba, DMFs in most mining states and districts are operating in a very closed door manner, only being administered by officials and political representatives. Even though the DMF law emphasises that Gram Sabha members of mining-affected areas should be made part of DMF decision-making, this has not happened,” says Srestha Banerjee, programme manager with New Delhi-based non-profit, Centre for Science and Environment.
Gram Sabhas are not represented in DMF governing councils in any district of India’s top mining states such as Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, etc. Not just that, they have also not been involved in DMF planning, review of works, or identification of DMF beneficiaries. This is despite the fact that DMF Rules of all these states clearly mention and emphasise this for scheduled areas.
DMF has been instituted under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015, as a mechanism of benefit sharing with mining-affected communities.
It is obligated to “work for the interest and benefit” of the people and areas affected by mining, through an inclusive and participatory process. This must be done through funds of the DMF Trust that comes as mandatory contribution from mining companies. Currently, there is more than Rs 1,500 crore in the Korba DMF. Overall, in India, DMF collection has now swelled to Rs 27,000 crores.
Instances of misuse in Korba
One of the biggest projects that have been questioned is the education hub funded through DMF. This project’s total cost is more than Rs 220 crore.
The report says that in the name of establishing the education hub, which was meant to improve tribal education, the building was partly given to the Central Institute of Plastic Engineering and Technology (CIPET). A tribal hostel was also given to CIPET, to be converted into a guest house without any documentation.
Besides this, Rs 86 lakh have been sanctioned for purchasing school furniture for the hub, which has been claimed for 700 students. However, the education hub has only 90 children so far and there is no scope for further addition.
Questions have also been raised on the way sanctions have been made. The report highlights several construction projects which have been awarded without any technical sanction. These include eklavya vidyalayas (school for tribal children), girls’ hostels, conference rooms in the collectorate etc.
The report also mentions multiple instances where the sanctions for one project were made from DMF and another government fund as well. Overpricing the projects was also highlighted where cost of construction of new hostels was found to be significantly lower than renovation costs incurred on some existing ones.
Locals think this is just the tip of the iceberg. “Irregularities have happened in a majority of the projects sanctioned under DMF,” says Laxmi Chauhan, a local activist from Korba working with the non-profit ‘Sarthak’.
The community representatives of mining-affected areas have requested the current government to revise the Chhattisgarh DMF Rules and improve public accountability mechanisms. This includes people’s representation on DMF decision-making bodies, and engaging them in monitoring, especially by instituting social audit.
The current Chhattisgarh government had already made a serious effort to improve DMF implementation in the state and prevent fund misuse. In January this year, the government stopped all urban projects that were being implemented through DMF funds but were not targeted towards mining-affected people.
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