Goa Spent Bulk of Money for Mining-Affected People on COVID-19 Relief

Science The Wire | March 18, 2021

On April 28, 2018, Devidas Nayak of Molem, a mining-affected village in south Goa, wrote to the authorities managing the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds, explaining that his agricultural land has lost its water holding capacity because the drainage adjacent to the land is full of mining silt resulting in flash floods during the monsoon, making it easy for wild boar and bison to destroy the land.

He sought financial assistance to desilt the nalha, and help in infrastructure for irrigation of his fields. Nayak, who was formerly working with barge transportation (of minerals), had lost his job since the mining industry shut down and needed financial help in protecting his fields. Nearly three years later, on January 6, 2021, his letter was forwarded to Goa’s water resources department for scrutiny.

Nayak’s plea is among nearly 200 such letters since 2018 that are with bodies controlling Goa’s DMF funds. These letters are from individuals, panchayat members, doctors, legislators, and non-profits representing mining-affected villages, requesting financial assistance for basic needs such as drinking water, water for irrigation, restoration of agricultural land, desilting of agricultural land, education, providing transportation for children, and creating health infrastructure – fundamentals of a functioning village. Three years later, while some of these requests have been approved, most are pending or have been deferred indefinitely.

In June 2015, through an amendment in India’s central mining law – the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act 2015 – DMFs were introduced in all districts in the country that are affected by mining-related operations, including Goa’s two districts, north and south. These district mineral foundations were tasked with managing and utilising the funds for the interest and benefit of people and areas affected by mining.

DMF funds diverted for COVID-19

According to documents accessed by Mongabay-India, about Rs 202.5 crore was collected under DMF, and of that approximately Rs 42 crore has been spent thus far. However, of this, merely Rs 4 crore has been utilised directly for the mining-affected villages, while the rest of the Rs 38 crore has been diverted towards COVID-19 relief. In March 2020, when the pandemic struck, the central government came out with an order that said that up to 30% of the DMF funds can be diverted towards coronavirus relief work.

But the central government’s move had come under severe criticism from several quarters including from the organisations working with mining-affected communities.

An analysis of the documents reviewed by Mongabay-India reveals that the DMF funds utilised for COVID-19 have gone into purchasing thermal imaging cameras, quattro machines, test kits, personal protective equipment, micro PCR systems – most of the equipment meant to be utilised in COVID-19 hospitals in major cities of Goa: Panjim, Vasco, Ponda and Margao.

Goa has two districts – north, which covers the mining belt, the coastal belt as well as the major cities of Panjim and Mapusa; and south, which also covers the mining belt, the coastal belt and the major cities of Margao, Vasco and Ponda.

The remaining Rs 4 crore went into providing water to mining-affected villages, providing transportation facilities for school children, pumping water out of the mining pits in a few villages, and desilting agricultural land for the village of Sirigao in north Goa. This utilisation, lawyers and activists say, has come only after being slapped by court orders.

“The DMF authorities have done no work for the benefit of the mining-affected villages of their own accord,” Anamika Gode, an environmental lawyer working for Goa Foundation, a non-profit based in Goa, told Mongabay-India. “If you notice, you will see that only water and transportation facilities have been provided thus far, and only one village has had its agricultural land desilted. Work under the DMF has started only after the repeated intervention of the High Court of Bombay at Goa.”

“It took them two years to even consider these applications. And if you notice in the minutes of the meetings, all COVID-related purchase approvals are post-facto,” she added.

In August 2020, two residents of mining-affected villages filed a petition against the Goa government, stating that the DMF funds have been misused by the state government, questioning the legal basis of the diversion of funds, and stated that the mining-affected areas have been completely neglected.

Hanumant Parab, a mining activist from Pissurlem, a mining-affected village in north Goa, said that the DMF had provided their village with 117 water tanks of 500 litres capacity each.

“We are yet to get the water though. They gave us the tankers two years ago but not a drop of water had come from them yet. They need to provide more tankers also,” Parab told Mongabay-India. The village currently depends on an erratic piped water supply from the government, and mining companies are mandated to provide water to some of the wards every day.

South Goa DMF had Rs 97.43 crore in its coffers, and, of that, it used Rs 14.95 crore. And of that, Rs 14.10 crore went towards COVID-19 relief work while the remaining Rs 85 lakh was utilised for providing drinking water to the mining-affected villages in south Goa, and transportation facilities to school-going children.

Indefinite delays and lack of access

Apart from the lack of priority and initiative towards the mining-affected villages, the DMF funds have also been criticised for tardy administration.

According to the minutes of the meeting that took place for North Goa DMF in June 2020, it was decided that all applications will be routed via the concerned departments: water queries to the water resource department, education-related queries to the education department.

However, no information was given about this change, so the individuals would continue to send their applications to the DMF authorities, who would then send them to the department concerned for scrutiny who would then respond if it was worthy of funding or not and a final decision would be taken by the governing council at meetings that are supposed to be held once every three months. Another problem that cropped up was the lack of ease of obtaining information from the website.

“There is no dedicated website for DMF,” said Gode. “Some sporadic information has been provided in PDF documents on the mines department website. How is anyone ever going to update themselves on the status of the application? How will they ever know what happened to their application?” she asked.

“Goa could have been a model state for DMF activity,” she said. “Mining came to a halt, the government had a real opportunity to rehabilitate the villages and we could have really shone because we know that it is possible to bring the fields and water sources alive again and resolve issues, but sadly, the reality is quite different.”

Polavaram project: Andhra high court stays eviction, demolition in affected areas

Down to Earth | Ishan Kukreti | March 16, 2021

At least 15 villages in two districts of the state have been demolished since 2016

The Andhra Pradesh High Court stayed the demolition of houses in villages falling in the way of the Indira Sagar Polavaram Irrigation project, popularly called the Polavaram multi-purpose project, in East and West Godavari districts of the state.

The court was hearing a petition filed against eviction and demolition of villages in the Schedule V areas of the two districts March 8, 2021. The petition was filed by Andhra Pradesh-based environmental justice non-profit Search for Action and Knowledge of Tribal Initiative (Sakti).

Polavaram multipurpose project, a storage scheme for the Godavari, aims to build a dam at Polavaram between East Godavari and West Godavari districts in Andhra Pradesh and Khammam district in Telangana.

The project was given a hydrological clearance in 1982 by the Central Water Commission. In August 2005, the Andhra Pradesh High Court issued a stay order on all work related to the project, on grounds that the government had not obtained the necessary clearances from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The project was revived in October 2005, after it received an environment clearance.

The Polavaram project was accorded national status in 2014 in the Andhra Pradesh Bifurcation Act and its design was changed. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project stated that 276 villages will be affected by the project. As many as 177,275 people live in these villages.

At least 15 villages in the east and west Godavari districts in the submergence zone of the project have been evicted and demolished since 2016, according to Sivaramakrishan, the petitioner in the case.

Villagers were evicted from Sitaram village in Devipattanam block of West Godavari and their houses demolished last week.

The counsel of the Andhra Pradesh Water Resource Department, however, told the court that no eviction took place. To this, the court directed the advocate representing the respondent authorities to produce in writing his reply on March 24. The court stayed the eviction proceedings till then.

A 2015 High Court order had stated that until the provisions for rehabilitation under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR) were implemented, the fixation of gates of the dam could not take place.

Sivaramakrishan said:

“The implementation of LARR and settling of claims under the Forest Rights Act has been ignored. They are forcing people out of their houses and demolishing them in front of their eyes.” 

Forest dwellers, under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) [FRA] Act, 2006, cannot be displaced unless their rights have been settled under the law. The petitioner, however, told the court that 520 individual claims covering an extent of 2,773.02 acres were pending at sub-divisional level committee in Chintoor and VR Puram blocks.

As many as 1,382 community claims covering an extent of 4,966 acres were pending in Khammam, Kothagudem, Palvancha and Bhadrachalam divisions in Telangana, he added.

This was among the largest displacements in the country, said Ravi Rebbapragada of Samata, an Andhra Pradesh-based non-profit working on tribal rights while welcoming the court intervention.

He added that even after 75 years of independence, the tribal communities were being forced to vacate their villages without proper resettlement and rehabilitation.

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.

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