Odisha Mining Industries Seek Public Hearing Through Online Mode

Republic Bharat | May 07, 2021

Bhubaneswar, May 6 (PTI) The mining sector in Odisha has urged the Centre to allow public hearings through online mode instead of cancelling the procedure due to the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federation of Indian Mineral Industries in a memorandum to the secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Changes, said that cancellation of public hearing will adversely affect mining production in the country.

The federation wrote a letter after the Odisha State Pollution Control Board cancelled public hearing of certain mining projects due to the surge in the COVID-19 pandemic. The public hearings were cancelled to avoid gathering of people at the proposed events.

“Such cancellation of public hearing will cause inordinate delays in grant of Environment Clearance (EC) process,” the federation said, adding that this will further impede mining activities besides adversely impacting the socio-economic development as well as employment opportunities in mining regions, along with revenues of the exchequer.

Therefore, the federation suggested expediting the public hearing for mining projects by conducting them through online platform/ digital more rather than cancelling them.

Such online public hearing will greatly help in saving time and resources for the public as well as all other stakeholders while being able to strictly follow the governments guidelines for COVID-19 and being safe, it said.

The federation urged the Centre to advise the Odisha State Pollution Control Board to conduct public hearing instead of cancelling them for indefinite period.

Eastern Zone Mining Association also urged the OSPCB to facilitate EC proposals for the state based projects. PTI AAM RG RG

Fossil Fuels, Climate Change and India’s COVID-19 Crisis

Time to Flourish | May 06, 2021

The surge of COVID-19 cases and the humanitarian crisis now unfolding in India has shocked the world and led to a search for an explanation of how the situation got so bad so fast. Scientists are investigating several factors including new variants and public health officials have pointed to underinvestment in the country’s health system.

Undoubtedly, the causes are varied, and as I watched the numbers surge, I began to wonder whether it’s worth considering the role air pollution may be playing. Since the early days of the pandemic, researchers have understood that exposure to polluted air makes people more vulnerable to COVID-19, and India’s megalopolises are among the most polluted in the world. “We understand that the impact of pandemic can be higher in polluted regions where people’s lungs have already been weakened due to long term exposures,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of research and advocacy at Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi. “That makes Indian cities vulnerable.”

There’s been some research on air pollution and COVID-19 in India specifically, but it’s probably first worth looking at the bigger picture. A slew of studies have shown direct links between exposure to air pollution and vulnerability to COVID-19. One paper published in December in the journal Cardiovascular Research found that chronic exposure to particulate matter—a type of pollution that results from a mix of chemicals that come from sources like smokestacks and fires—is likely linked to some 15% of global COVID-19 deaths. Particulate matter doesn’t just come from fossil fuels, but the study’s authors found that more than 50% of air pollution-linked COVID-19 deaths are specifically connected to fossil-fuel use.

A seemingly endless stack of studies has shown the causal links that explain this: extended exposure to air pollution contributes to a range of ailments—from asthma to diabetes—that are risk factors for COVID-19.

The research in India is still in early stages, but scientists have already begun to evaluate the local connection. A preliminary study out of Malaviya National Institute of Technology in Jaipur, India found a correlation between COVID-19 cases and air pollution and climatic conditions—like wind and humidity—in Delhi. Another preliminary paper from the World Bank relying on data from India found that a “1 percent increase in long-term exposure to [particulate matter] leads to an increase in COVID-19 deaths by 5.7 percentage points.” The study suggested a range of “urgent” interventions from promoting cleaner fuel sources to reducing pollution in the transportation system that would complement more obvious public health measures like vaccination and mask wearing.

“A scientific consensus seems to be emerging that improving air quality may play an important role in overcoming or at least reducing the impacts of the pandemic,” the authors of the World Bank paper wrote. “Research implies that pollution must be limited as much as possible when lockdowns are lifted.”

This dynamic is important to understand not only because it helps explain one factor that has worsened the pandemic, but also because it offers a lens into so-called “climate co-benefits”—a key consideration that helps make the case for urgent action on climate change. That term refers to the positive effects beyond carbon dioxide emissions reduction that result from tackling climate change. Co-benefits range from improved soil health (resulting from agricultural practices that reduce carbon emissions) to improved energy security (as a positive outcome of expanding renewable energy sources and reducing reliance on fossil fuel imports).

But perhaps no co-benefit is more significant—and more urgent—on a global level than the clean air that results from nixing fossil fuels. In India, for example, chronic exposure to air pollution causes the premature death of more than a million people each year. Hundreds of thousands more are similarly affected in China. Even in the U.S., which has relatively strict environmental standards, more than 100,000 people have been estimated to die prematurely due to particulate matter air pollution every year, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And, in the U.S. and around the world, the burden falls disproportionately on low-income communities of color.

Policymakers and scientists have had many a thorny debate about the best ways to account for those co-benefits, but on a purely human level it’s another example of how tackling climate change would save lives—not just 30 years in the future but right now.

COVID-19 first wave pushed 23 crore Indians into poverty: Azim Premji University

Business Today | May 06, 2021

The report, titled ‘State of Working India Report 2021’ stated that rural India witnessed a 15% increase in poverty and a 20% rise was registered in urban areas after one year of the coronavirus pandemic

The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic shoved a staggering 230 million (23 crore) Indians below the poverty line, estimated a study by the Azim Premji University.

The report, titled ‘State of Working India Report 2021’ stated that rural India witnessed a 15% increase in poverty and a 20% rise was registered in urban areas after one year of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Coming on a low-income base, this shock meant that the number of individuals who lie below the national minimum wage threshold (Rs 375 per day as recommended by the Anoop Satpathy committee) increased by 230 million during the pandemic,” according to the report.

“This amounts to an increase in the poverty rate by 15 percentage points in rural and nearly 20 percentage points in urban areas. Had the pandemic not occurred, poverty would have declined by 5 percentage points in rural areas and 1.5 percentage points in urban areas between 2019 and 2020, and 50 million would have been lifted above this line,” it added.

The report further highlighted how women lost more employment than men during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, how around half of formal salaried workforce moved into informal work, and how poorer households underwent considerably higher income losses during the lockdown period.

Mobility curbs resulted in income losses because of decreased economic activity, the report noted. “A 10% decline in mobility was associated with a 7.5% decline in income,” it stated, suggesting the situation could get worse if more lockdowns are imposed in the future.

The report proposed that the Centre will need to roll out a relief package worth Rs 8 lakh crore to contain hardships being faced by lower-income groups due to the economic impact of COVID-19.

The report is based on inputs from Consumer Pyramids Household Survey, Azim Premji Foundation, and many other civil society organisations.

The study found that nearly half of formal salaried workers moved into informal work, either as self-employed (30 per cent), casual wage (10 per cent) or informal salaried (9 per cent) workers, between late 2019 and late 2020 and there was a decline in their income level as well.

In April and May, the poorest 20 per cent of households lost their entire income and the richer households suffered losses of less than a quarter of their pre-pandemic incomes, the report said.

To bring relief for the people suffering hardships of COVID-19 impact, the Azim Premji University report, released on Wednesday, recommended measures that would cost the government an additional expenditure of around Rs 8 lakh crore.

“The measures that we have proposed will bring the spending by the government of India to 4.5 per cent of overall GDP between this year and last or about Rs 8 lakh crore. We think that is not even internationally comparable to what other countries have done, but really what India needs to do,” Azim Premji University associate professor of economics Amit Basole said while releasing the report.

According to the report, the public distribution system has a wider reach than Jan Dhan Yojana, and free rations under the PDS should be extended beyond June, at least till the end of 2021.

In Karnataka and Rajasthan, out of those with women-owned Jan Dhan accounts, 60 per cent received one or more transfers, around 30 per cent did not receive any transfers and 10 per cent did not know about the fund status in their account, it added.

The university report recommended a cash transfer of Rs 5,000 for three months to as many vulnerable households as can be reached with the existing digital infrastructure, including but not limited to Jan Dhan accounts.

It has suggested expanding the MGNREGA entitlement to 150 days and revising programme wages upwards to state minimum wages.

This needs to expand the programme budget to at least Rs 1.75 lakh crore, according to the report.

It has also recommended launching a pilot urban employment programme in the worst-hit districts with a focus on women workers, increasing the central contribution in old-age pensions to at least Rs 500, a COVID hardship allowance to 25 lakh Anganwadi and ASHA workers of Rs 30,000 and automatically enrolling all MGNREGA workers who do construction work as registered workers under the building and other construction workers (BoCW) Act.

Covid-hit India needs Rs 8 lakh crore package to support lower income groups: Report

India Today | May 06, 2021

A report has suggested that the government needs to roll out a relief package of Rs 8 lakh crore to contain hardships faced by lower-income groups due to the economic devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government will need to roll out a relief package worth Rs 8 lakh crore to contain hardships being faced by lower-income groups due to the economic impact of COVID-19, a report by Azim Premji University said on Wednesday.

The report is based on inputs from Consumer Pyramids Household Survey, Azim Premji Foundation, and many other civil society organisations.

As per the calculations based on CMIE-CPHS data, the report said, around 23 crore people are estimated to have fallen below the national minimum wage poverty line due to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and around 1.5 crore workers remain jobless by the end of 2020, the report titled State of the Work 2021 said.

The study found that nearly half of formal salaried workers moved into informal work, either as self-employed (30 per cent), casual wage (10 per cent) or informal salaried (9 per cent) workers, between late 2019 and late 2020 and there was a decline in their income level as well.

In April and May, the poorest 20 per cent of households lost their entire income and the richer households suffered losses of less than a quarter of their pre-pandemic incomes, the report said.

To bring relief for the people suffering hardships of COVID-19 impact, the Azim Premji University report on Wednesday recommended measures that would cost the government an additional expenditure of around Rs 8 lakh crore.

“The measures that we have proposed will bring the spending by the government of India to 4.5 per cent of overall GDP between this year and last or about Rs 8 lakh crore. We think that is not even internationally comparable to what other countries have done, but really what India needs to do,” Azim Premji University associate professor of economics Amit Basole said while releasing the report.

According to the report, around 30 per cent of people in some states did not get ration as per Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana, which needs to be investigated.

“Something like 30 per cent of PDS priority ration cardholder, unfortunately, did not receive the extra grains, at least in these two states (Karnataka and Rajasthan) and this number of 30 per cent we find broadly similar also in few other states that we have done as part of our other COVID livelihood survey,” Basole said.

According to the report, the public distribution system has a wider reach than Jan Dhan Yojana, and free rations under the PDS should be extended beyond June, at least till the end of 2021. In Karnataka and Rajasthan, out of those having women-owned Jan Dhan accounts, 60 per cent received one or more transfers, around 30 per cent did not receive any transfers and 10 per cent did not know about the fund status in their account, it added.

The university report has recommended a cash transfer of Rs 5,000 for three months to as many vulnerable households as can be reached with the existing digital infrastructure, including but not limited to Jan Dhan accounts.

It has suggested expansion of MGNREGA entitlement to 150 days and revising programme wages upwards to state minimum wages.

This needs to expand the programme budget to at least Rs 1.75 lakh crore, according to the report.

It has also recommended launching a pilot urban employment programme in the worst-hit districts with a focus on women workers, increasing the central contribution in old-age pensions to at least Rs 500, a COVID hardship allowance to 25 lakh Anganwadi and ASHA workers of Rs 30,000 and automatically enrolling all MGNREGA workers who do construction work as registered workers under the building and other construction workers (BoCW) Act.

“The survey has been supported crucially by various organisations including Azim Premji Foundation and Azim Premji Philanthropic initiatives, Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy, as well as many civil society organisations, have contributed in bringing the information that we have been able to collect,” Basole said.

Odisha diverts DMF funds to urban areas as mining-affected communities suffer

India Mongabay | May 05, 2021
(i)Odisha is one of the mineral-rich states and has billions of rupees collected under the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds which according to the law are to be used for the welfare of the mining-affected communities.
(ii)Instead, the DMF funds are either being used for works that have nothing to do with the welfare of mining-affected communities like the creation of a stadium or diverted for urban areas.
(iii)Experts note that Odisha has more than Rs. 110 billion under the DMF funds but they are yet to find their way to the mining-affected communities.

During the latest budget Session of Odisha’s Legislative Assembly, the Odisha government’s Cabinet in March 2021 approved several proposals but the one that raised eyebrows was to use the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds, meant for the mining-affected community in the Sundergarh district, for construction of an international stadium in Rourkela town.

The proposed international stadium has been envisioned to host the Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023. This misuse of the DMF funds is not a one-off incident, but there have been many similar trends over the years. In 2017, in the Jharsuguda district, the district administration sanctioned works related to the power supply to the Jharsuguda airport with an investment of more than Rs. 20 crore (Rs. 200 million) squeezed from the DMF funds.

In another mining district of Keonjhar, the district administration in 2019-20 sanctioned works for a handball stadium, and invested around Rs 500,000 for a patient facilitation centre for Cuttack-based medical college which is around 200 kilometres away from Keonjhar.

In January 2020, the administration of the Sundergarh district bought 25 cars with the DMF funds for them to be used as patrolling vans by the police in Rourkela city, a non-mining affected area. Earlier, even integrated traffic management was sponsored with the DMF funds. In the same district, the DMF funds were also used to construct the boundary walls of the Circuit House.

The list of instances where the DMF funds were used for works that had nothing to do with the welfare of the mining-affected communities goes on. This, experts warn, is worrisome because this comes at a time when the state’s own people living in the mining-affected areas are crying for attention and seeking help for basic amenities in their areas after living in poor and vulnerable conditions for decades.

This is important because according to the Union Coal and Mines Minister Pralhad Joshi, Odisha has seen the highest collection of Rs. 11,984 crore (RS. 119.84 billion) as DMF collections from the miners operating in the state since the inception of funds in 2015.

The Odisha government recently told the state Assembly that the DMF collections in the state are rising in the state. While it was Rs. 395.44 crore (Rs. 3.95 billion) in 2015-2019, in 2019-20 the total annual collections stood at Rs. 3,079.20 crore (Rs. 30.79 billion).

Though Odisha has a significant amount of the DMF funds what is probably lacking is the provision of transparency related to their use. For instance, Rule 16 of the Odisha DMF Rules talks about sharing the annual report of the DMF trust on its website but hardly any annual reports have been uploaded online for several years.

Odisha’s DMF Rules mandates the usage of 60 percent of the funds in priority areas while 40 percent of them could be used in non-priority areas. The non-priority areas included investments in physical infrastructure, irrigation, energy and watershed development, afforestation and others.

Queries sent to P.K. Jena, who is the Odisha government’s secretary for the planning and convergence department, regarding the diversion of DMF funds for other purposes remained unanswered.

Pranav Sachdeva, a lawyer with the Supreme Court who has handled many mining cases in the apex court emphasised that Odisha and many states have attempted to dilute the very concept of the DMF funds by diverting it to areas other than the mining-affected areas.

“As mining firms grow, the local community impacted by mining does not get any benefit from the money collected … in fact the local environment is impacted too. But the governments often diverts these important resources away from the vulnerable community. They try to use the DMF funds for works where ideally budgetary allocations should have been used. These funds were planned for the upliftment of the affected community for their health, education, livelihood and others and many portions land in urban areas,” he said.

The pollution mess in the mining-affected areas of Odisha
According to the 2011 Census, about 1.62 million people (50 percent) in the Sundergarh district belong to Scheduled Tribes and many live in rural areas. This area is adjacent to the Chhattisgarh border and known for coal mining and other minerals for decades. But what is consistently ignored is the plight of the communities impacted by mining.

For instance, Naresh Meher, a resident of Ratanpur village in Gopalpur panchayat in Sundergarh district, said that people in his village are living in pathetic conditions due to mining taking place about 10 kilometres away. He said that the levels of air pollution, water pollution and sound pollution have taken a huge toll on his village.

“Around 3,000 trucks cross our village every day. Thick levels of dust often engulf our standing crops while polluted water is discharged from the handpumps. Several of the citizens here live with skin diseases, cancer and other diseases triggered by mining activities,” said Meher, who himself is tuberculosis (TB) patient.

But this is not the end of their poor fate as his village is now listed to be taken away for mining.

Social activist Suru Mishra from Sundergarh said that in the Hemgiri block in the district, a stretch of 25 kilometres of road connects the mining centres of Sundergarh with Chhattisgarh and passes through several villages but even then the roads are in extremely bad shape.

“You cannot walk on that road. Only trucks and heavy vehicles run on that road. There are very big potholes and the whole stretch gets waterlogged making it very difficult for the local communities to commute or for kids to use that to go to schools,” Mishra told Mongabay-India.

Both, Meher and Mishra, said that these areas and many other mining-affected areas need government attention to improve their standards of lives. They also said that the Hemgiri Community Health Centre (CHC) is still deprived of a digital X-ray facility and ultrasound facility and other medical facilities but the government has spent several portions of the DMF funds in boosting the District Headquarter Hospital (DHH), which is in an urban area.

The provision of DMF funds – to be collected from miners – were introduced in January 2015 by the government of India through an amendment in the country’s mining laws for all districts affected by mining-related operations.

In the Talcher region of the Angul district, the villagers living in areas close to the coal mining and coal washery units are left to suffer from the discharge of untreated water directly into the farmlands of the village. Similarly, in the Bansapal and Joda blocks of the Keonjhar district, the villagers are facing the crisis of polluted groundwater, a result of mining activities. This has also forced many women to walk for miles every day to fetch drinking water.

How Odisha’s DMF funds are being diverted for other purposes?
Experts working on the issue of mining in Odisha and other states claim that the DMF funds are now easily diverted for other priority areas and urban areas despite it being illegal and mining-affected communities crying for help.

Sankar Prasad Pani, a lawyer with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) said, “In districts like Keonjhar, the salaries of doctors are now being paid through the DMF funds which should ideally be coming from the state’s budgetary allocations.”

“Collectors find the DMF funds sometimes hard to dispense and thus divert it for numerous urban-centric works. But they are not annual budget funds, they can be accumulated and do not lapse. They can be used when needed. The need is to make priority-based plans to aid the mining-affected people,” he said.

Ramesh Agarwal, a leading Indian environmentalist based in Raigarh in Chhattisgarh said, “The rules of DMF have been framed in such a way that the district collector gets the power to sanction the DMF funds with the approval of the local DMF committee. In many states, we have seen diversion of the funds to other areas which is not going to affect the mining hit communities,”

A study conducted by the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on the usage of DMF funds in different mining districts of Odisha found that despite lower social and health indicators the allocation of DMF funds on the issue of livelihood and other areas had not been much, say for example in Sundergarh district.

“In Sundergarh, one of Odisha’s top mining districts, a negligible Rs. 3 crore (Rs. 30 million) has been provided for child development out of the district’s Rs. 745 crore (Rs. 7.45 billion) sanctions. This is at a time when under five Mortality Rate in rural areas of the district is as high as 67, and nearly 50 percent of the children below this age are victims of stunted growth,” the report said.

Srestha Banerjee, Programme Head, International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology (iFOREST), who played a key role in producing the CSE report, said the constitution of the DMF committee in the districts is one of the main problems.

“The DMF Committee in the districts have been formed in such a way that the local politicians including the parliamentarians and legislators exert more power in the decision making on the spending of the DMF funds in their areas. The mining laws permit the administration to use part of the DMF funds for administration works, but when the mining hit communities need attention for their upliftment and diversion of these funds to urban areas and for other similar works sounds less logical,” Banerjee told Mongabay-India.

She said that livelihood and income generation of the rural poor population living in the mining-affected areas need to get a priority under the DMF fund allocations. She also demanded that the DMF funds should be spent based on priority areas rather than in a haphazard manner as it is happening presently in many mining districts of Odisha.

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