It is no secret that our country is gifted with abundance of mineral wealth. If this wealth is appropriately exploited, our country will leave behind many a developed country in the world. But it is perturbing to note that owing to the politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus, the mineral wealth is confined to a selected few, at the cost of miseries to a gargantuan number of population. However, the proposed Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill, 2011 may prove to be a glimmer of hope for the common man in general and for the people inhabiting the mineral-rich regions in particular. For, there are several serious issues that the legislation promises to address, such as sharing of profits with project-affected people, environmental sustainability, competitive bidding to improve returns to states, and transparency in grant of permits. In fact, the genesis of India’s mining sector has its roots in half-a-century hopeless governance, going back to the 1957 Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation (MMDR) Act. This law was a typical example of licence raj that existed for 40 years before the 1991 reforms. For an honest businessman, this law was a nightmare. With overlapping authority between the central and state governments, the honest mine operator was bounced around from office to office for years. It was a perfect recipe for a corrupt neta, babu and businessman who colluded to manipulate the system resulting in huge losses to the government, excessive exports of unprocessed ores, and unauthorised production and smuggling. Unlike other countries, where royalties are levied based on price of the commodity, the Government of India persisted until recently with arbitrary, administered rates. Invariably, due to lobbying, these low rates deprived state governments of thousands of crores of rupees in revenue over the years. Here, I would like to bring to fore the dismal scenarios, under which most of the mines in Indian states operate. These revelations have the potential to deal a deathblow to illegal mining operations in India. Firstly, notwithstanding the Odisha government’s claim that a vigilance probe and host of other steps have been taken to check illegal mining, two letters by ruling BJD legislators have exposed a different ground reality. The BJD MLAs—Debasis Nayak and Bhagirathy Sethy—expressed concern over the unabated looting of Odisha’s precious ore resources. They also alleged that the government was behaving like a mute spectator even as the laws were blatantly flouted. Minerals were being smuggled outside the state because of an unholy alliance between mining contractors and some political personalities. The other instance is of Goa. Besides the notices from the state forest department, the Goa legislative assembly’s Public Accounts Committee, headed by the opposition BJP leader Manohar Parikar, issued notices to 46 mines asking them about non-compliance of mandatory conditions for environmental clearance. This covers more than half the mining leases presently in operation in Goa.
The quick and phenomenally progressive increase in the number of illegal mining cases year after year bears ample testimony to the planned ineffective supervision or the disinterest shown by the state governments concerned to curb this menace, for obvious reasons. It is an open secret that such illegalities prevail and thrive only with the active connivance of the most powerful in the respective state governments. Unless the leaders of the states decide not to pawn their conscience to mine contractors at the cost of the exchequer, this type of pilferage of the national wealth can never be contained, leave alone being totally done away with. We only wish those who are appointed to head the commissions to enquire into the illegal mining cases did not allow themselves to get submerged in the flow of silver that precedes the flight of the most precious minerals from the mines, to the illegal dens of those dirty miners. Rampant illegal mining does not only signify failure of the state concerned to check the flow of our mineral resources or to bring the perpetrators, often influential politicians themselves or those close to them, to book with immediate effect. Rather it points to the failure of a number of organisations and other states that provide transit route for the products of illegal mining as its destination is not located within a particular state or boundary. An overarching robust law in place would certainly go a long way towards containing this activity but it is equally important to crack down on those under whose aegis this business is flourishing. Hence, it is the government’s duty to regulate the business in such a way that the interests of the present and future generations are safeguarded. But for this to happen, a complex web of unscrupulous mine owners, contractors, corrupt officials, political patrons, who together comprise the mining mafia must be taken into the consideration and a strict action must be taken against them for the damage, which is almost irreparable to our country, so that nobody dare commit such a crime under the protection of higher authorities.