Amid protest, Odisha Cabinet okays mineral foundation fund for hockey stadium

The Hindustan Times | March 25, 2021

District Mineral Foundation fund for an international hockey stadium in Rourkela is just one of the many projects taken up even as environmentalists protest that the money should be used for improving the lot of people directly affected by mining, which was the purpose of this fund

On Monday, the Odisha Cabinet approved the development of Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium and construction of an international hockey stadium in Rourkela ahead of Men’s Hockey World Cup in 2023. Of the ₹356.38 crore the project requires, ₹266 crore will come through District Mineral Foundation (DMF) Trust of Sundargarh, and Odisha Sports Development Fund.

The decision has renewed the questions that have been raised over the alleged misuse of DMF funds for a various other projects but those for mining-affected public, which was why the DMF was created. For instance, in January last year, Rourkela city police got 25 Innova Crysta vehicles at a cost of ₹4.65 crore with Sundargarh DMF fund.

“How would building stadium or buying police vehicles help mining-affected areas? People in Sundargarh don’t have access to safe drinking water and proper roads. Should the funds not be used for better purposes,” asked Laxman Munda, CPM MLA from Bonai in Sundargarh.

Munda’s protests have come at a time when the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh is using the DMF funds for the construction of an airstrip in Singrauli district, one of the biggest and most polluted coal mining and thermal power hubs in the country.

DMF was instituted through an amendment to Mines and Minerals(Development and Regulation) Act 2015 to “work for the interest and benefit of people and areas affected by mining”. The funds of DMF trust come from mining companies operating in the respective districts and they pay an equivalent of 30% of the royalty amount for leases granted before 2015, and 10% for leases granted after that. DMF fund is to be spent on improving human development indicators through investments in high-priority areas such as healthcare, education, women and child development, improving sustainable livelihood, and income opportunities in areas adversely affected by mining.

Till January this year, Odisha collected ₹11,984.87 crore in its DMF fund, the highest in the country, and spent ₹5,364 crore out of it, around 44.76% , a little less than the national average.

Yet, there are murmurs of protest over the alleged misuse of funds.

Kusum Tete, BJP MLA of Sundargarh, one of the districts where DMF money is being spent, said, “Rourkela city is not a mining area while most of my electorate bear the brunt of pollution due to coal and iron ore mining. The government is using DMF funds for sports infra in Rourkela, and policing. Should it not have used the money for providing piped water in Sundargarh?”

Tete said Hemagir, one of the blocks in her assembly constituency, suffers from pollution from trucks carrying coal to neighbouring Chhatisgarh. “The first priority should have been using the DMF funds to prevent pollution in the area. The tribals have been agitating for the past two months, but the government is the least bothered,” she said.

Chinmayi Shalya, who works with the International Forum for Environment, Sustainability and Technology (iForest) on DMF issues, said DMF fund is not meant for stadium construction and beautification projects. “It is a targeted fund for mining-affected communities. Using it singularly for hockey World Cup would potentially be a misuse,” she said.

Chief secretary Suresh Mohapatra and Sundargarh district collector Nikhil Pawan Kalyan did not comment on the allegations.

Activists are also severely critical of the state government’s decision to use DMF funds for integrated traffic management system to check road fatalities in the state.

“The commerce and transport department has asked all districts to install CCTV surveillance system for enforcement of traffic violations at vulnerable stretches and black spots on highways from the DMF or Corporate Social Responsibility fund where DMF is not available. How will CCTV surveillance help the lot of tribals?” asked activist Pradip Pradhan.

The state government also plans to construct integrated infrastructure complex, including old age homes in all the 30 districts, with the funding support from DMF. In Keonjhar, locals pointed out the district authorities are building a handball stadium in Keonjhar. “At least 56% of the people in Keonjhar district are Dalits and tribals and sizeable section of them is below the poverty line. Yet the district administration does not take the suggestion of the common people while finalising the plans for DMF use,” alleged Kiran Sahu, president of Keonjhar Citizen’s Forum.

Even as there have been protests over the expenditure on stadiums and police vehicles, the Odisha Commerce and Transport department has sought the permission to build a new railway line project for iron ore transportation in Keonjhar district from DMF fund, triggered another controversy.

In a letter to the Keonjhar district collector, the department has asked if the DMF trust can sanction ₹363.38 crore for building the 18 km Banspani-Barbil line that will provide direct rail connectivity to iron ore loading stations on the Noamundi-Bolani Khadan section from Banspani for movement to steel plants in Odisha or to ports. The railway line is proposed to be built by Odisha Rail Infrastructure Development Limited, a state government-led joint venture with Indian Railways.

Environmentalists and right activists are decidedly against the project. “When DMF fund is supposed to be spent for the benefit of those affected by mining-related operations, seeking permission for spending it on railway project connecting iron ore loading stations to steel plants is a mad idea. The DMF fund is meant to uplift the living standards of mining-affected people, not make their lives more miserable,” said Prafulla Samantara, rights activist who was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2017.

Prominent environmental activist Biswajit Mohanty said it is laughable to propose spending DMF fund for iron ore transportation when miners are asked to contribute to the fund for the damage they are causing to local environment.

CPM MLA from Bonai constituency of Sundargarh district, Laxman Munda said, “Lack of transparency can result in wasteful expenditure, misuse of funds and sub-standard quality of work and corruption.”

Shalya pointed out that decision-making needs to involve those directly affected by mining. “There are some good investment examples from Odisha, such as, the use of DMF to increase MGNREGA wages at par with state minimum wage in Keonjhar. States should guide and equip districts for a long-term planning of DMFs so that funds are used wisely and effectively to improve the well-being of local communities,” she said.