Illegal Mining in India On the Way Out For Good?

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Two recent developments on the mining front in India are set to impact the way mining operations will be conducted from here on out in the country.

Following the mining scam involving a few Indian states including Karnataka and Goa, the Mines Ministry has given more powers to the state governments to crack down against illegal mining.

The Union Government has amended the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960, to help the local governments crack the whip against those convicted for illegal mining. This amendment, experts say, will help governments in states like Goa take action on their own against those not toeing the line.

The other development, though unrelated, that took place recently was that the Goa government announced it would cancel 40 mining leases in the state, of which at least 10 are said to be “active” leases.

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar told legislators in the state legislative assembly that his government had looked into all 40 cases and their licenses would be cancelled. Immediately, the fallout of this action would be a drop in India’s iron ore exports, since Goa leads in this.

Last year, Goa had exported over 50 million metric tons of iron ore to countries such as China and Thailand. Parrikar also said that while mining was an important revenue earner for Goa, natural resources could not be sacrificed.

The central government amendment has been greeted with mixed reactions from the mining industry, activists and the general public. A Times of India report quoted Mines Director Prasanna Acharya as saying that the amendment to the law will strengthen the hands of the directorate of mines in tackling issues of illegal mining.

It was only after a detailed judicial inquiry by the Justice M. B. Shah Commission that the massive illegal mining activities in Karnataka and Goa had been unearthed, even leading to the resignation of the Karntaka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa.

Environmentalists quoted in the Times report said it was a good but belated decision after illegal mining had almost exhausted the natural resources.

The Goa chief minister’s announcement concerns 40 leases which were originally concessions given to miners when Goa was still ruled by the Portuguese. The Government of India carried these on after Goa’s liberation. Then, in 1987, the Indian government decided to convert these concessions into leases.

Of the more than 300 such concessions, 82 were converted into active mining leases. But around 40 mining operators, though, delayed in filing the forms required under law at that time. They did so only in 2005. It is these that Parrikar’s government is now targeting.

Sohrab Darabshaw contributes an Indian perspective to MetalMiner.

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