Mining is an important business in India and a key driver of economic growth. Minerals and ores are used as primary raw materials in a variety of industries, including those that produce thermal power, iron, steel, cement, petrochemicals, etc. Illegal mining on a large scale across numerous states costs millions of crores each year and harms the national economy, good governance, and public order. It has encouraged extensive corruption at all levels of government, the rise of the mafia in society, and financial dominance. In addition to being national theft, it has detrimental effects on the national economy and society.
The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 (“MMDR Act”) is the principal piece of law designed to manage the mining and mineral sectors in India. In response to changing conditions, the act was painstakingly rewritten in 2015, 2016, 2020, and 2021 to implement important reforms in the mineral sector. In this article, we will look into the various laws, and provisions to combat illegal mining in India, especially in the context of the State of Rajasthan.
WHAT IS ILLEGAL MINING?
The Minerals (Other Than Atomic and Hydrocarbons Energy Minerals) Concession Rules, 2016, describes “Illegal mining” as any scouting, prospecting, or mining operation conducted by any individual or company in any area without a mineral concession. Under section 21 of the MMDR Act, anybody who raises, transports, or causes to be raised or transported any mineral without a prospecting licence, mining lease, composite licence, or in contravention of the rules is involved in illegal mining.
Role of the State Governments
Section 23C of the MMDR Act empowers state governments to enact legislation against unlawful mineral mining, transportation, and storage, as well as other relevant objectives. As a result, state governments have the legislative and regulatory authority to prevent illicit mining. Furthermore, in compliance with Section 23C of the MMDR Act, 21 state governments, including Rajasthan, have established task teams at the state and district levels to combat unlawful mining. Lastly, state governments oversee the police, the legal system, and the ownership of mineral rights. Direct steps by state governments are required for any effort to prevent mineral theft, as authorised by Section 30B of the MMDR Act, which allows state governments to establish special tribunals for such instances.
Application of the Mineral Conservation and Development Rules
The Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) inspects mining lease sites during inspections to guarantee compliance with the Mineral Conservation and Development Rules, 2017 (“MCDR”) and to look for rule infractions. This is the responsibility of the central government in the prevention and administration of illegal mining. For each MCDR violation, IBM issues a letter asking for repair; if that fails, legal action is pursued. In the event of serious violations, IBM may also suspend mining operations. IBM recommends to the State Government that mining operations be halted owing to noncompliance with Rule 45.
Rule 45 of the MCDR mandates all miners, merchants, exporters, and end-users of minerals to register and report on mineral output, trade, and usage to the State Governments and IBM. It permits end-to-end national accounting of all minerals generated in the country, from the mine to their final use, reducing the risk of illegal mining, tax evasion, and other illegal activities.
MINING SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM: THE WAY FORWARD?
Rajasthan’s forests, Aravalli Mountains, and water supplies have all been purposely harmed by unchecked legal and widespread unlawful mining. Rajasthan has the highest mine leases in the country, with 1,324 major mineral Licences, 10,851 minor mineral Licences, and 19,251 quarry Licences for stone mining. The state received about 590 billion rupees in royalties from important minerals such as lead, zinc, and limestone in 2004 and 2005. However, the sector only accounts for 3% of the state’s GDP because the mining industry in Rajasthan is better represented by tiny minerals and stone quarries than by significant minerals. There are countless unorganised mines in Rajasthan, some as small as one-twentieth of an acre. Since these mines are not under the control of the government, there are no records of them.
To address this, the Ministry of Mines collaborated with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the Bhaskaracharya Institute for Space Applications and Geo-informatics in Gandhinagar to create the Mining Surveillance System (“MSS”), which aims to use space technology to combat illegal mining in the country. The MSS satellite-based surveillance system aims to build a regime of responsive mineral management through public involvement by minimizing instances of illegal mining operations. The MSS is a transparent and unbiased system with quick response times and the ability to provide effective follow-up. State governments have had a lot of success employing the deterrent effect to assist minimize illegal mining.
MSS implementation will bring perpetrators to justice, allowing them to be penalizedfollowing Section 21 of the MMDR Act. Section 21 of the MMDR Act provides for up to 5 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs. 5,00,00 per hectare of the impacted land.
The idea behind the mining laws is to create employment, increase the contribution of the mining sector to the GDP of the nation and captivate domestic as well as foreign investment. It will be however noteworthy to witness how the legal regime will stand the test of time and judicial review. State Governments have been advised to implement the MSS for Minor Minerals within their States. Further, the Ministry of Mines through IBM has conducted the training for the officials of State Governments and the MSS triggers generated from the MSS are also sent to respective State Governments. Finally, the current status of the mining sector, in which disruptive social and environmental behaviour is constantly publicized in the media, serves as a powerful reminder that more reform is required. There should be an amendment that provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lay the groundwork for the responsible extraction of the nation’s natural resources.