DMF funds projects execution slow in mining dists

The Pioneer | March 16, 2021

There has been tardy progress in the implementation of projects under the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds in the State.According to the Government of Odisha’s Rural Development Department Annual Activity Report (2020-21) tabled in the State Assembly on Saturday, four important DMF active districts, such as Keonjhar, Sundargarh, Jajpur and Koraput, have made some progress even though they are lagging behind on the project implementation front. Assessments were done on three important infrastructure, road, bridge and building.

It is revealed that out of 222 approved road projects, 94 projects are completed and work is under progress in 91 projects. While out of Rs 56,196 .96 lakh sanctioned, utilisation certificates (UCs) have been given in respect of only Rs 18,817.57 lakh though the spending is to the tune of Rs 23,763 lakh.

Similarly, out of 312 building projects, 233 projects have been completed and work is under progress in 63 projects. By the end of January 2021, out of total Rs 17,817.92 lakh sanctioned for these projects, Rs 10,596.59 lakh was spent and UCs were given only for Rs 9,425.91 lakh.

And out of 39 bridge projects, 17 have been completed and work is under progress in respect of 13. Though Rs 5,867.48 lakh was sanctioned for these projects, UCs were given for Rs 2,866 lakh, while the actual spending was Rs 3,070 lakh.

Data available for these districts reveal that Keonjhar and Jajpur have done significant progress in building road projects. Out of total Rs 13,271.64 lakh sanctioned for Keonjhar, the actual spending was of Rs 5,369.00 lakh but UCs were given for only Rs 3,900.57 lakh.

Of the bridge projects, out of 38 approved projects for Sundargarh, 17 projects were completed within the stipulated time and work was under progress in 12 more projects, but UCs were given for Rs 2,823 lakh whereas actual spending made was of Rs 3,027 lakh.

The total sanctioned amount was Rs 5,789.48 lakh. In Koraput out of 39 approved projects, 17 have been completed and work is under progress in 13 projects. Out of the total Rs 5,867.48 lakh approved cost, only Rs 3,070 lakh was spent and UCs were given only for Rs 2,866 lakh.

The building projects were done in a fairly better way as far as completion of the projects is concerned. Out of 312 sanctioned projects, 233 were completed and work was under progress in 63 projects in the leading DMF active districts like Angul,Jajpur,Keonjhar,Sundargarh and Jharsuguda. While Angul, Jajpur, Keonjhar and Jharsuguda did better in project completion, Sundargarh lagged behind. In utilisation of money Angul,Keonjhar and Jharsuguda did better whereas Jajpur and Sundargarh did perform poorly.

Though Rs 996.94 lakh was spent in Jajpur, the administration submitted UCs for only Rs 467.14 lakh. Similarly, Sundargarh produced UCs for Rs 1,785.65 lakh out of sanctioned amount of Rs 2,206.65 lakh. The report of RD Department states that since implementation of the scheme in 2016-17, in total 423 road works, 312 buildings and 89 bridge works (total 824 projects) have been sanctioned by the district level DMF headed by the Collectors in these districts.

The main objective behind the setting up the DMF was to implement various development and welfare schemes and projects in mining affected areas to minimise the adverse impact caused by mining to socio-economic, environment and health of the people and the area.

Is Modi Government Planning on Selling State Govt. Owned Mineral Resources to Corporates?

News Click | Ayaskant Das | Feb 17, 2021

A draft notification by the Ministry of Mines says mineral blocks not auctioned by state governments can be auctioned by the Centre.

New Delhi: In an attempt apparently aimed at helping corporate houses appropriate a greater pie of natural resources of the country, the Modi government has proposed a law whereby the Centre can auction mineral blocks that belong exclusively to states. On February 9, the Union Ministry of Mines had issued a draft notification proposing a series of mining reforms, including the transfer of rights to auction mineral blocks to the Central Government.

The Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 will be amended to “provide the power to central government to conduct auction (of mineral blocks) in cases where the State governments face challenges in conduct of auction or fail to conduct auction”. Among other reforms, the government has proposed to allow commercial trading of up to 50% of coal extracted from blocks allocated exclusively for captive mining. The Centre has also sought to do away completely with the mandatory requirement to conduct fresh assessments and obtain new clearances whenever successful new bidders take over mineral blocks from old leaseholders.

Even though the draft notification makes it amply clear that all proceeds from auctions of mineral blocks by the Centre will fully accrue to respective state governments, it is being claimed that the proposed legislation undermines the federal structure of the country: state governments not only own minerals (except coal and uranium) but are also fully empowered to decide when and how to utilise those resources.

Experts have questioned the intention of the Central Government in bearing the costs and rigours of the auction process if all proceeds will ultimately accrue to state governments. “State governments are trustees of mineral resources. They can use the power at their disposal to auction mineral blocks in accordance with their own needs,” said senior Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Parikh.

The ministry has justified its proposal to take over the power of auctioning all blocks on the grounds that state governments have displayed tardiness in selling minerals. The notification stated that Central Government exploration agencies have – since the year 2015 – handed over geological reports for 143 mineral blocks which are ready for auction to various state governments.

However, only seven blocks from this list have been auctioned so far. The draft notification also stated that leases of 334 mineral blocks, out of which 46 were working mines, expired in March 2020. However, despite repeated prodding by the Centre, only 28 of those blocks had been auctioned by the states so far, it said. The idea to auction a greater number of blocks on a regular basis has been justified on the basis of the assumption that this will ensure continuous supply of minerals in the country. It has further been reasoned that a delay in conduct of auctions has a substantial impact on the availability and prices of minerals.

“Where will the concept of inter-generational equity go if all mineral resources are auctioned together? Mineral resources have to be extracted in a very reasonable manner in accordance with our requirements. Otherwise it will lead to zero balance of resources for future generations. In the past there have been instances of fake letterhead companies buying over coal blocks even if those firms had no involvement in manufacturing activities of any nature. Immediate and wholesale auction of mineral blocks will result in precious natural resources going under the control of only those corporate houses who not only have very deep pockets at the moment but also have the power to compete for bids. There will be manifold adverse impacts on the local environment too if, by any imagination, all mineral blocks are subjected to extraction at the same time,” Parikh told Newsclick.

It has been speculated that any attempt by the Centre to take over powers of state governments, as far as ownership and management of mineral resources are concerned, will be vehemently opposed. In the wake of an attempt by the Central Government to undermine federalism, which forms a basic structure of the Constitution of India, it is likely that state governments would challenge the amendment in court, thereby resulting in a complete derailment of the mineral block auction process. On the other hand, an alternative exists for the Centre in the form of extending assistance to states for conducting e-auctions, which is a faster and cost-effective process if at all there exists the need to sell more mineral resources.

In the proposed amendment to the Act, a provision has also been made to allow leaseholders of captive mines to sell up to 50% of minerals extracted in any particular year, after meeting end-use requirements, provided that an additional royalty, as prescribed by the Central Government, is paid. In continuation of this provision, captive coal block leaseholders will now be able to use 50% of extracted minerals for commercial trading. This proposal has been justified by the Centre on the assumption that it will reduce the import bill of coal and help bridge India’s trade deficit.

“There are numerous thermal power plants in India that have been designed to operate only with imported coal. Many plants are strategically located along the country’s coastline for easy availability of imported coal through the sea route. These plants can never switch to domestic coal. Further, there is no reason why the government should charge additional royalty for coal (or any other mineral) that is commercially traded after meeting end-use requirements. It will lead to an artificial increase in the cost of minerals and the burden of additional royalty will ultimately be transferred to the consumer. This goes against the spirit of Atmanirbhar Bharat. If at all, the government should withdraw all captive conditions from upon existing leaseholders,” said R.K. Sachdeva, former advisor (Coal) to the Government of India.

In March last year, soon after a total lockdown was imposed across the country on account of COVID-19, the Central Government had issued a notification giving a two-year holiday for new mining leaseholders wherein they could continue extracting minerals on the basis of old clearances provided they obtained new clearances by the year 2022.

The new draft notification proposes to completely do away with the requirement of obtaining new clearances: the old set of clearances can be used by new leaseholders till all resources are exhausted in the mineral block. It stated that new leaseholders are “facing difficulties” in obtaining fresh clearances which not only happens to be a “lengthy process” but is also “time consuming”.

“The proposal that no fresh clearances are required for new leaseholders is pro-industry and pro-development. Any break in mining operations for the sake of new clearances would have led to a discontinuity in business. Mine operators would have had to begin the entire exercise afresh after getting new clearances. It would have become difficult for mine operators to find ore again,” added Sachdeva.

Sections of the industry have welcomed the move to continue extraction on the basis of old clearances even though those pertaining to environment and forests are not within the domain of the mines ministry.

“An environmental clearance, once granted, is valid irrespective of change of ownership of a mine. But consent for establishment and operations have limited validity and need to be renewed periodically. These cannot be bypassed. Further, any mining plan approved by the Indian Bureau of Mines does not come with a lifelong validity. It has to be reviewed every five years. Each project proponent has to submit mining plans for the next 20 years, including a closure plan. The Indian Bureau of Mines reserves the right to revoke a prior approval in the event of deviations from the original plan,” said Rebbapragada Ravi of mines, minerals & PEOPLE, an alliance of individuals, institutions and communities affected by mining.

Questions have also been raised about the issue of the safety of workers engaged in mining activities while allowing continuous extraction on the basis of old clearances. Shouldn’t safety standards be reviewed periodically as leaseholders dig deeper into the earth to extract minerals? The Directorate of Mines Safety reserves the right to cancel operations in the event of safety norms not being followed properly or being violated intentionally.

Further, there exist a certain set of mining clearances that are granted by state governments including handing over of the lease itself, through agreement, by the respective Directorate of Mines & Geology. “If there is any change in ownership, the new leaseholder has to sign a fresh agreement with new terms and conditions. This includes the amount of royalty and also the issue of mining permits at regular intervals. Any extension of mining lease or change in ownership has also to be done through issue of government order by the concerned department which cannot by bypassed,” added Ravi.

Need to prioritise sustainable living to protect planet: expert

The Hindu | February 15, 2021

‘Planned urbanisation in countries such as India could serve as a great adaptation method’

Climate change and urbanisation are two of the most important phenomena facing the world today and they are inextricably linked, observed Fulbright fellow in Environmental Studies at Yale University (USA) Suman Chandra.

She participated in the discussions during the national webinar on ‘Climate Change Adaptation: Traditional Wisdom and Cross-Scale Understanding,’ jointly organised by GITAM School of Gandhian Studies and United States India Education Forum (USIEF), here on Monday.

She pointed that India ranks fourth in the list of countries that produce highest greenhouse emissions and this could be a result of massive urbanisation.

Ms. Chandra, who earlier served as District Collector of Buldhana district in Maharashtra, emphasised that we are on the cusp of a rapidly changing world and we need to prioritise sustainable living and make it a part of our lifestyle in order to protect the planet. She suggested that a planned urbanisation in countries such as India could serve as a great adaptation method.

A. Rama Mohan Reddy, former forest service officer, who extended his services in the Himalayan region, focussed on the impact of climate change on forests which include frequent fires, unforeseen floods, untimely flowering of various plant species and the likes. He also spoke about various measures taken by the Forest Department to mitigate the long-term effects and to improve forest cover.

Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals (VSPCA) member Priya Tallam spoke about resilience in coastal communities and various activities undertaken by the VSPCA towards the betterment of the ocean and the marine life along the coast of Visakhapatnam.

The panel of speakers included IIM (Ahmedabad) Professor Rama Mohan Turaga, Samata Executive Director Ravi Rebbapragada, Ashoka Trust post doctoral research associate Vikram Aditya, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) researcher Bijayashree Satapathy and Stanford University researcher Krti Tallam.

AP Bauxite issue: A deep mine of tribal unrest, biz interests, eco concerns

The Federal | Suresh Dharur | Dec 26, 2020

Repeated attempts by successive governments in the past to take up bauxite mining in Visakhapatnam district had triggered anger among tribals. In fact, it has remained a political issue for long

Bauxite mining in Andhra Pradesh has been a touchy political issue for decades because of its far-reaching implications on environment and the livelihood of tribal communities.

The repeated attempts by successive governments in the past to take up bauxite mining in Visakhapatnam district had triggered anger among tribal communities. In fact, the issue was one of the key rallying points for the opposition parties as well.

Soon after taking over the reins of the state in May last year, Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy ordered the withdrawal of a Government Order (GO) on bauxite mining and assured the tribals that his government would not take up mining in the district, which is a part of the environmentally fragile Eastern Ghats.

Back-door entry

However, the controversial issue is back in limelight with environmentalists and opposition parties expressing fears that the government was trying to facilitate a ‘back-door entry’ for mining magnets in the region.

The reasons for new apprehensions are not far to seek: The YSR Congress government is preparing the ground for allowing commencement of operations of alumina refinery in the district by Anrak Aluminium Ltd.

The ruling party’s parliamentary wing leader V Vijayasai Reddy publicly stated that the private refinery would be allowed to operate with bauxite ore to be sourced from Odisha and abroad.

This statement has triggered fears that the government was ‘stealthily preparing the ground’ for bauxite mining in the state.

“We will not allow bauxite mining at any cost,” said Ravi Rebbapragada, the executive director of Samata, a local NGO which has been waging a prolonged legal battle against mining in the region.

The Supreme Court had in the past made it clear that either the State, its instrumentalities or the tribal themselves forming into cooperatives have right over forest resources in the scheduled areas.

Though Anrak Aluminium Ltd, a joint venture of Ras-al-Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA) and Penna Group, completed the works on the 1.5 million tonne refinery long ago with an investment of Rs 5,000 crore to Rs 6,000 crore, it could not start operations for want of bauxite ore. The refinery is located in Makavarapalem mandal, about 80 km from Visakhapatnam.

In the combined Andhra Pradesh, the then Congress government, headed by Jagan’s father YS Rajasekhar Reddy, had decided in 2005 to allot bauxite mining to AP Mineral Development Corporate and supply the ore to Jindal South West Aluminium Ltd and Anrak Aluminium Ltd, floated by Ras-al-Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA) and its Indian partner Penna Group.

However, the MoU was cancelled in 2015 following widespread protests from tribal groups and the opposition parties. This led to the filing of an international arbitration by RAKIA against the Centre and state governments. The government recently formed a committee with senior officials to arrive at an out of court settlement with Anrak.

“There was no provision for arbitration in the agreement. The private operator should be allowed in the mining and refinery areas keeping in view the environmental pollution,” the former union energy secretary and noted environmentalist E A S Sarma said.

“The refinery will cause damage to the environment. Any attempt to start it will face stiff resistance from people,” warned the local CPI (M) secretary K Lokanadham.

Independent probe

Sarma sought an independent investigation by Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) into the alleged illegal mining of bauxite in East Godavari and Visakhapatnam districts.

“I have been cautioning the government about private individuals and companies extracting bauxite in the guise of laterite. It may be noted bauxite mining is restricted to the public sector and to tribal cooperatives as directed by the Supreme Court in the Samata judgement years ago,” the retired IAS officer said.

In a bid to circumvent this restriction, the private miners, in collusion with the local mining officials, have been producing false analysis certificates to show that the bauxite they are extracting and exporting to alumina refineries is indeed laterite.

As per the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) report, any aluminous mineral ore containing more than 30 per cent aluminium is defined as bauxite.

However, the State Mines department has been granting leases for “laterite” mining, thus allowing the miners to go scot-free, Sarma pointed out. He alleged that many mining leases granted in Visakhapatnam and East Godavari actually involved illegal bauxite extraction.

As per the original plan, drawn up in 2005, the state-owned APMDC was to undertake the mining in 1,212 hectares of reserve forest area in Chintapalle and Jerella blocks of Visakhapatnam district.

However, the subsequent governments chose not to go ahead with the proposal due to widespread opposition in the region.

“Minerals like bauxite/alumina are scarce resources. Aluminium is a strategic metal that is used widely in the aviation industry and other manufacturing processes in the west. The price at which Indian miners export alumina is several times lower than the global price, which implies enormous scope for corruption and black money generation,” Sarma said.

How Modi Government’s Thermal Power Reforms Aggravate Pollution

News Click | Nov 20, 2020

The push for the use of domestic coal is directly focused on revitalising coal mining and thermal power companies, including addressing their sluggish response to the coal auctions, said experts

New Delhi: Even as most of India is gripped by severe air pollution, reforms by the Modi government for the thermal power sector, particularly those undertaken to push the use of domestically-produced coal, could further aggravate the situation. In the latest in a series of relaxations, the BJP-led Central Government has granted thermal power plants leeway to change their sources of coal without amending environmental clearances.

The restrictions on sourcing of coal were lifted through an office memorandum issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on November 11. Instead of seeking an amendment to environmental clearance, a thermal power plant will now simply need to ‘inform’ the ministry that it would be changing over to a new coal source, irrespective of the potential environmental hazards such a change would entail.

“Details regarding change in source (location of the source, proposed quantity, distance from the power plant and mode of transportation), quality (ash, sulphur, moisture content and calorific value) shall be informed to the Ministry and its Regional Office. The quantity of coal transported from each source along with the mode of transportation shall be submitted as part of EC [Environmental Clearance] Compliance Report,” the memorandum stated.

The memorandum also allows for transportation of coal along road routes, albeit in lorries covered with tarpaulins, which, nevertheless, could also be a potential source of air pollution.

In June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the auction of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining by private players. The auction process for allotment of the blocks is still underway even as the number of blocks were later scaled down to 38, primarily due to environmental concerns raised by the Chhattisgarh government.

However, in the run up to the auction of coal blocks, the Centre brought about policy changes that laid greater impetus upon usage of domestically produced coal. Coal mined in India has a higher percentage of ash as compared to high-grade imported coal, which is of better quality and hence, expensive. Environmental hazards from fly ash are only expected to increase over the next few years as more thermal power plants shift to domestically produced coal.

Experts say the move to allow thermal power plants to change the quality and source of coal at will, needs to be understood alongside the pool of reforms for the coal sector in India, including carte blanche approvals for road transportation where precautions, prior approvals or impact assessments do not exist.

“The push for domestic coal is directly focused on revitalising the mining and coal power companies, including addressing the sluggish response to the coal auctions,” said Kanchi Kohli of the Center for Policy Research, a Delhi-based public policy think tank.

Reforms for thermal power and coal mining industries have been brought into effect notwithstanding the fact that combustion of fossil fuel is one of the major sources of environmental pollution. Fly ash, which contains highly toxic elements, is one of the byproducts from coal combustion in thermal power plants. Improper management of gargantuan quantities of fly ash accumulated over several decades has resulted in large scale air and water pollution in areas close to thermal power plants. Apart from fly ash, thermal power plants are also cause air pollution from sulphurous emissions, where coal containing high percentages of sulphur is used.

In April 2020, the Modi government had come out with a policy which encouraged thermal power firms to switch over from imported coal to domestically-produced coal. The Union Ministry of Power, which issued the policy advisory, had also set up a mechanism to ‘deal with difficulties faced by the power companies in obtaining required quantity, quality of domestic coal including logistic bottlenecks’.

In May, the central government did away with the mandatory need to use coal with ash content below 34% in thermal power plants. Domestically-produced coal has an ash content in the range between 35% to 40% or above, while most coal imported to India has an ash content between ten to fifteen per cent. The notification, issued on May 21 by the MoEF&CC, also did away with the mandatory requirement of washing coal before its usage in thermal power plants. As per experts, coal washing is a procedure that helps remove ash percentage by around eight per cent.

Though usage of domestically-produced coal is expected to generate larger quantities of fly ash, the central government has, however, ruled out any entitlement for thermal power plants to increase capacities of their existing fly ash ponds unless they expand their electricity generation capacities.

In the latest office memorandum issued on November 11 too, the Centre has clearly ruled out any provision for additional ash ponds other than that which have been allowed in the environmental clearances to respective thermal power plants.

These relaxations have been granted even as several regions in the country are battling with air and water pollution caused by thermal power plants. There have also been numerous instances of fly ash pond dyke breaches in which toxic slurry has spread over farmlands and habitations resulting in loss of lives, damage to agricultural crops and pollution of nearby water bodies.

“Substitution of imported coal with domestically produced coal is good from the point of view of increasing our forex reserves. However, there are certain plants located along the coasts of the country that have been designed to have the natural advantage of using imported coal. A few ultra-mega power projects have also been specifically designed to use a certain quality, quantity and blend of coal. The correlation between fly ash generation and its utilisation is important. The economics of fly ash utilisation should not work to anyone’s disadvantage. Transportation of fly ash not only blocks rail capacity but also involves rail freight charges. And there is obviously the threat of environmental pollution during the loading and unloading processes,” former Advisor (Coal) to government of India, R.K. Sachdev, told NewsClick.

At the same time, most thermal power plants in the country have missed the December 2017 deadline for 100% fly ash utilisation. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, as it was called during the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, had in November 2009 issued a notification regarding fly ash utilisation. The notification had set a five-year time period with staggered deadlines for thermal power plants to utilise fly ash. For existing plants, a maximum period of five years was set for 100% of fly ash from November 2009. For new plants, the ministry has set a deadline of four years for 100% utilisation within a period of four years from the date of commissioning. This notification was later amended by the Modi government in January 2016 to extend the deadline for existing plants further, till the end of 2017.

However, as per the latest report of the Central Electricity Authority, fly ash utilisation in the country was only 78.19% during the first half of financial year 2019-20. Only 39 out of 105 thermal power plants had fly ash utilisation in the range of 100% or above.

On November 6, the National Green Tribunal reiterated its earlier order upon the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to compute and recover environmental compensation from thermal power plants that have missed deadlines for the 100% utilisation of fly ash. This order was issued following a CPCB report, submitted to the tribunal in September, as per which 102 of 112 thermal power plants had refused to pay environmental compensation on various grounds (including appeals pending in the Supreme Court). Eight plants never responded to the CPCB notices while only two plants paid up the penalties.

“Ironically, this comes at a time when there is a global move away from coal-based power, including financial support. It also comes with complete knowledge that Indian coal which is high in ash content will only add to the huge backlog of fly ash mismanagement,” said Kohli.

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