Complete projects within limited time framework: DC

The Pioneer | June 08, 2022

A review meeting was conducted at the district level of District Mineral Foundation Trust (DMFT) under the chairmanship of deputy commissioner Nancy Sahay. In the meeting the deputy commissioner has instructed all departments to prepare the plan according to the demand of the public.

She instructed all the block level and district level officers to complete every plan within the time framework, which is prescribed by the state Government. This is the basic duty of the concerned department to take the administrative sanction for the further action.

She further said that the departments must prepare the plan on health, education, drinking water and social welfare with the consultation of the

concerned block and panchayat and must be passed by the villagers general meeting.

Sahay said that the plan should be implemented after 15 days in each and every block. Those blocks which are affected by the mining must be put on top priority. She has instructed the engineers of every department they must be honest in the completion of the projects. If any negative report will come to headquarters then strict action will be taken on the concerned engineer.

She told the child development officers to select 200 Anganwadi Kendra and their diet chart as early as possible and send it to the district headquarter.

In the meeting civil surgeon, district panchayat raj officer, executive officer of district board, rural development building division engineers were present.

States used Rs 1,460 crore from district mineral foundation fund to combat Covid-19

The Times of India | May 27, 2022
NEW DELHI: State governments have spent a total of Rs 1,459.93 crore from District Mineral Foundation funds on various activities to curb Covid-19 during the past more than two years, according to the ministry of mines.
The ministry also said that several states, including Odisha, Telangana and Karnataka, are still using District Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds to battle coronavirus.

District Mineral Foundation (DMF) is a non-profit statutory trust, which has been set up for the welfare of the districts affected by mining-related activities. It is an initiative of the government to ensure that funds collected under DMF are utilised for the welfare of those affected by mining-related operations.

The total funds available under DMF as on March 28, 2020 was to the tune of Rs 14,694.47 crore, the ministry said.
“State governments are continuing to use District Mineral Foundation funds to combat Covid-19, wherein Rs 1,459.93 crore has been spent till April 28, 2022,” the ministry said, adding that the amount was spent between March 28, 2020 and April 28, 2022.

Of the total amount utilised during the pandemic, Odisha spent the maximum Rs 445.54 crore, followed by Telangana at Rs 334.08 crore. Karnataka spent Rs 199.58 crore, while Rs 139.79 crore has been utilised by Andhra Pradesh and Rs 91 crore by Chhattisgarh.

Other states which spent DMF funds to combat Covid-19 are Assam, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand and West Bengal.

However, Bihar, Harayana and Kerala did not spend funds for activities related to Covid-19 since March 28, 2020 till last month.

As on March 28, 2020, Bihar had DMF fund of Rs 84.50 crore, followed by Haryana Rs 20.24 crore and Kerala Rs 2 crore.
DMF has been created in each district under the provisions of Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015.

What a Scathing Audit on Mining in Jharkhand Tells Us About CAG’s Toothlessness

The Wire | May 25, 2022
A performance audit brings home the point of what happens when the national auditor is denied access to information and records.
A recently concluded performance audit on the functioning of District Mineral Foundation (DMF) Trusts in Jharkhand has indicted the state’s Mining and Geology Department for failing to furnish the actual figures of collections from mining leaseholders.

Bringing the sad state of affairs to public notice, the national auditor said, “There were three sets of un-reconciled collection figures: one reported by Director of Mines, one as per DMFT bank accounts and one by District Mining Officers (DMOs)”.

This performance audit presents all that has gone wrong with the implementation of this fund meant for the welfare of mining-affected communities in the country.

As per the figures available on the DMF dashboard, as on March 31, 2022, cumulative contribution to DMF stood at Rs 61,867.92 crores, out of which the cumulative expenditure as on March 31, 2022 was Rs 31,212.49 crore.

Jharkhand accounts for the third largest DMF collection, amounting to Rs 8,301.37 crore as on March 31 2022. Two other mineral rich states, Odisha and Chhattisgarh received the highest DMF contribution amounting to Rs 17,907.32 crores and Rs 8,943.47 crores respectively.

While the DMF Rules notified by Jharkhand government in 2016, as well as Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Kalyan Yojana Guidelines (issued by Union Ministry of Mines) dated September 16, 2015, envisioned preparation of annual action plans and budgets for respective DMFTs, the performance audit revealed, “The District Collectors of none of the sampled DMFTs prepared annual budget or annual action plan”.

Further, in a shocking revelation, the performance audit noted that the DCs of Bokaro, Dhanbad and Ranchi incurred an expenditure of Rs 1,568.04 crore from DMFT funds on various schemes during 2016-21, without identifying the areas affected directly and indirectly by mining and generating the list of affected people by involving the Gram Sabhas of the concerned affected villages.

A mammoth Rs 4,473.18 crore (81% of total DMF collection as on March 31, 2021) in Jharkhand was sanctioned on just two areas: piped drinking water schemes and ‘open-defecation free’ activities.

When CAG auditors raised a red flag on this, bureaucracy at different level mentioned that it was so “reportedly on the instructions of Chief Minister and Chief Secretary of the state to meet scheme targets.”
A paper tiger

Beyond all these details showing us how a fund meant for local area development with participation from mining-affected communities got reduced to a line departments-driven fund, lies another lesson. Reading this performance audit brings home the point of what happens when a national auditor is denied access to information and records.

The question of whether there is a need to amend the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Services) Act, 1971, to grant more enforcement powers to the national auditor has become an aimless cry in the wilderness. Indian auditors who passionately love to perform their constitutionally ordained duty today wonder what to make of the letter ‘P’ in the law that is popularly known by its abbreviation: CAG (DPC) Act, 1971.

While this question was discussed at biannual Accountants General Conference in October 2008, and an amendment draft was prepared in 2009, consecutive finance ministers and ruling governments have largely ignored the matter.
In a final draft of the Jharkhand mining performance audit, the Principal Accountant General, Indu Aggarwal stated:

“Audit was denied access from examining and reporting on the functioning of State Level Monitoring Committee, which is the apex body to monitor the (District Mineral Foundation Trust) Fund at state level though the matter was reported to the Secretary of the Department and escalated to the Chief Secretary of the State Government.” [emphasis added]

At another place in the performance audit, the PAG noted:

“Thus, restrictions on access to crucial and primary records to audit despite assurance of full cooperation by the Secretary of the Department in entry conference, especially when all the audit procedures and criteria for conducting audit were explained in the entry conference (held during initiation of the performance audit, wherein PAG office briefs the representatives of the audited department about the scope and methodology of audit) and Chief Secretary of the state government was taken on board with requests to produce records is a Red Flag to presumptive fraud and misappropriation. These potentially derail the constitutional mandate of audit and prevent it from providing insights to the State Legislature for fixing accountability on erring officials”. [emphasis added]

Reading the above quotes from the final draft of the performance audit of DMF in Jharkhand reminded me of the concern expressed by P.K. Kataria and Subir Mallick in a theme paper, ‘Auditing for Good Governance: Oversight and Insight’.

Arguing for the need to grant the CAG of India wider powers on access to information and records kept by public offices, Kataria and Mallick stated:

“While section 18 of the CAG (DPC) Act, 1971, provides access to the records and accounts and empowers Audit to inspect any offices of accounts under the state or central government, it doesn’t provide any enforcement powers to the CAG of India to ensure compliance by the auditee to her/his request for information within a reasonable time.”

CAG of India had initiated the performance audit on District Mineral Foundation Trusts in Jharkhand with an entry conference in December 2020 with the Secretary of the Department of Mines and Geology. The performance audit was carried out between December 2020 and April 2022 (roughly 17 months) and the audit team picked up just six districts (Bokaro, Chatra, Dhanbad, Hazaribagh, Lohardaga and Ranchi) out of 24 districts in Jharkhand as a representative sample.

In the final draft, there is a full paragraph on constraints faced by the audit.

In this paragraph, the Principal Accountant General noted down the factors which hindered the audit examination:
“(i) The Department (of Mining and Geology) did not provide any information on the functioning (policy decisions, instructions, corrective measures, monitoring etc.) of State Level Monitoring Committee (SLMC) on District Mineral Foundation Trusts despite repeated requisitions and reminders (between September 2021 and April 2022) by Audit to the Secretary of the Department and Director of Mines followed by active pursuance by audit team.

(ii) Audit requested (October 2021) the Chief Secretary of the state who is also the chairman of State Level Monitoring Committee to intervene in the matter in providing the access to the functions rendered by SLMC in handling the DMFT Funds. However, no response was received even after lapse of more than six months. This impeded the audit mandate as SLMC is the only body established under the Act to handle the Fund centrally at the Apex level. Denial of access to records of SLMC prevented audit from examining and reporting on the performance of SLMC in managing the Fund during the period under the audit (i. e. 2015 to 2020).

(iii) The Secretary of the Department and Director of Mines were also requisitioned and reminded (between August 2021 and April 2022) for production of monthly collection report of DMFT contribution and royalty. However, these were not responded to even after lapse of more than seven months (as on 19th April 2022). This prevented Audit from ascertaining the correctness of DMFT contribution and its actual loss in the state arising from delayed promulgation of DMFT Rules. Besides, the Director of Mines and the Department could not provide data of DMFT collection and expenditure for the year 2020-21 to audit as no authority had been maintaining such records for the state as a whole.

(iv) The Department did not provide, despite repeated reminders, any record for the methodology adopted for selection and prioritisation of schemes or for identification of directly/ indirectly affected area and people in compliance with the Act/ Rules. Such non-production of records from Audit prevents examination of the basis of resource allocation in the absence of mining affected area and people. The matter, therefore, merits examination from a vigilance angle as it is not possible, without impartial investigation, to find out how resources have been allocated and spent on any particular area, cluster or for any set of beneficiaries.

(v) The Director of Mines visited (October 2021) the office of the Principal Accountant General (Audit) and assured to provide all the above records/data/information etc. (which were not produced) besides data dump of Jharkhand Integrated Mines and Minerals Information System (JIMMS) portal. The records however were not produced when audit teams again visited (between November 2021 – April 2022) the office of the Director of Mines who informed audit that data/information called from field offices (DMO) were not received. In the name of data dump, a CD was sent (November 2021) by post to audit which contained excel sheets of DMO wise daily collection of DMFT contributions. No information was available in the CD (excel sheets) how these contributions were arrived at. Thus, audit was prevented from verifying the system of collection and computation of DMFT contributions being captured in JIMMS. The Director of Mines was informed (December 2021) that it was not data dump but excel sheets without any information of the royalty and payable DMFT contribution. Further request (April 2022) to provide data dump was not responded to (as on 19th April 2022).

(vi) Audit forwarded a draft report on audit findings covering the period 2015-2020 on working of DMFTs in October 2021 for response and reply of the Department. No response has been received (as on 19th April 2022) for the Department”.
The performance audit was shared with Chief Secretary with a letter from the Principal Accountant General dated April 20, 2022. In the letter, PAG informed the Chief Secretary that a copy of the final performance audit had already been shared with Secretary, Mining and Geology Department, Jharkhand on April 19, 2022. With that letter PAG office had requested the Secretary of the Mining and Geology Department, to furnish the replies within two weeks and requested the date for an Exit Conference in the first week of May 2022. The letter also reminded that an earlier correspondence dated October 22, 2021 has not been responded to by the office of the Secretary, Mining and Geology Department.

In a file noting, the Chief Secretary, while forwarding this letter, noted:

“Kindly go through it. A reply must be sent without fail by 30/04/2022”.

Has the reply been filed by the Secretary, Geology and Mining Department, who is under the custody of Enforcement Department?

Will the ‘exit conference’ to this performance audit take place soon?

We may have no clue on the probable answers to such questions. However, one thing is certain. If the ruling government indeed wants to walk the talk we heard from the podium of the National Audit Diwas, it must give a consideration to the proposed amendments to CAG (DPC) Act, 1971.

Himanshu Upadhyaya is assistant professor at Azim Premji University.

Centre Trying to Create ‘Rubber Stamps’ for Faster Wildlife Clearance, Says Parliamentary Panel

News Click | Ayaskant Das | 24 May 2022
Experts say amendments proposed to Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 are part of a policy to promote ease of doing business.

New Delhi: A Parliamentary panel headed by former Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has criticised an attempt by the Narendra Modi-led government to tweak India’s wildlife protection laws. The changes are being made to secure definitive approvals for industrial projects in ecologically fragile areas rich in flora and fauna, the panel said.

In a report recently submitted to the Parliament, the panel has noted that committees constituted for wildlife clearances at the state level, as envisaged by the central government, might end up as mere “rubber stamps” if independent members are not included in them.

The panel, a 29-member Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change, recommended the inclusion of at least three institutional members and the Director of Wildlife Institute of India into these committees. In its evaluation of the Wildlife Protection Amendment Bill 2021, the panel expressed apprehension that the state-level panels that have been proposed “will be packed with official members, and may end up being a rubber stamp for faster clearances of projects.”

Conservationists and experts have, at the same time, cast aspersions on the draft Bill for its potential to enable corporates extraction of precious natural resources of the country after sidelining local communities.

The panel has recommended the inclusion of at least one-third of all non-official members of the respective State Boards of Wildlife (SBWL) into the aforementioned proposed state-level committees. Through the amendment Bill, which was introduced in Parliament in December 2021, the central government has sought to empower each SBWL to constitute its own Standing Committee for the purpose of “exercising certain delegated powers and duties”. However, as per the Bill, these standing committees will consist of the vice-chairperson and member-secretary of the respective SBWL. A maximum number of ten additional members can be inducted into the Standing Committee by the vice-chairperson from amongst the members of the SBWL, the Bill further suggested.

“The Bill again envisages that each Board or its Standing Committee will be free to create various committees, sub-committees or study groups from time to time for the proper discharge of functions. It is necessary that the respective SBWL approves all recommendations or decisions by these committees or sub-committees before implementation,” said Debi Goenka of the Mumbai-based environmental organisation Conservation Action Trust. He further said, “But firstly, over-arching powers proposed to be assigned to the vice-chairperson of respective SBWLs in the appointment of Standing Committees should be curtailed. Members of each Standing Committee should either be appointed by the National Board for Wildlife or the respective SBWL.”

The proposal to constitute standing committees of state-level wildlife boards, by amending the Wildllife (Protection) Act, 1972, comes in the backdrop of the fact that the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has not met even once after the formation of its Standing Committee in the year 2014. As per the Act’s provisions, this central-level Board has to mandatorily meet at least twice a year. Immediately after being elected to power following the massive victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the general elections of 2014, one of the first tasks undertaken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to reconstitute the composition of the NBWL and constitute a Standing Committee for the purpose of conducting appraisals of infrastructure projects located in areas rich in wildlife.

“We have further suggested imposition of a ban on the use of mechanical earth moving equipment within protected areas, for example, wildlife sanctuaries or reserved forests, except in exceptional circumstances like natural disasters. This is intended to discourage civil works within the protected areas which seem to be proliferating because of liberal availability of funds with forest departments for the purpose of compensatory afforestation,” Goenka further added.

The Bill has also been criticised for the attempt to reduce the number of Schedules – containing lists of protected species of plants and animals – from the original Act.

At present, the Act has six Schedules in all; one is devoted exclusively to specially protected plants and four are dedicated to specially protected animals, while another schedule contains a list of vermin species. (Vermin refers to parasitic animals that carry disease or destroy food).

However, the amendment Bill seeks to reduce the total number of schedules to four: the number of Schedules for specially protected animals has been sought to be reduced to two, with one containing a list of species that need greater protection. The Bill completely eliminates the Schedule containing a list of vermin species and instead seeks the introduction of a new Schedule for specimens listed in the Appendices under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

A number of environmental organisations, including the Conservation Action Trust, have recommended a separate Act to implement the CITES provisions, which is a multilateral treaty to regulate the international trade of species of endangered plants and wildlife to ensure their survival. However, the Jairam Ramesh-headed panel, on its part, recommended an amendment to the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, to implement the provisions of CITES in India.

“The [Parliamentary Standing] Committee [has] observed that amending the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 would be the most appropriate way of implementing CITES, as the mandate of CITES is sustainable use of biodiversity. It also observed that the approach under the Bill will make the principal Act complicated and might introduce contradictions,” the panel noted in its report.

As the name suggests, the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 contains provisions to conserve biological diversity in India, sustainable use of its components and equitable sharing of benefits from biological resources.

In its present form, the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 entrusts the responsibility of controlling, managing, and maintaining wildlife sanctuaries with each state government’s respective Chief Wild Life Warden. The Bill envisages the discharge of these responsibilities according to sanctuary-specific management plans. These plans will be prepared as per guidelines of the central government after due consultation with concerned Gram Sabhas in areas with predominantly tribal populations; in such places, provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 – known popularly as the Forest Rights Act, 2006 – are applicable.

“Interestingly, the Bill speaks about local self-governance in Schedule 5 areas with respect to Gram Sabhas under Forest Rights Act but omits mention of the PESA Act [Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996],” Rebbapragada Ravi of MM&P (mines, minerals and PEOPLE), an alliance of individuals and communities affected by mining, told the Newsclick. Ravi added, “It is a fact too well known that areas rich in wildlife in India are also those that not only have a pre-ponderance of various Scheduled Tribe communities but are also rich in rare and precious natural resources like minerals. This move is indicative of the trend to concentrate power with the central and state governments and make it easy for the mining industry to acquire and expand their operations under the policy of ease of business. The central government is paving the way for corporates to easily exploit minerals in the country, by a series of amendments to the environmental and mining regulatory regime in India,”

The PESA Act is a law enacted by the Union government to ensure local self-governance through traditional Gram Sabhas for people living in Scheduled Areas of the country. Scheduled Areas are notified under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of India for their economic backwardness and predominance of the Scheduled Tribe population.

The move to amend the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 comes close on the heels of largescale changes to laws governing forest conservation in the country as proposed by the central government. The Centre has proposed to do away with several regulatory requirements needed to divert forestland for non-forest use in a draft amendment to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, which was released in October last year.

Conservationists had earlier flagged amendments proposed to forest laws on the ground that it was intended to benefit corporates in the ease of doing business.

Don’t divert funds meant for mines-affected community: Odisha govt to collectors

Hindustan Times | May 01, 2022
The District Mineral Foundation Funds scheme in Odisha has been beset with allegations of misuse and diversion of funds .
Amid allegations of misuse and diversion of District Mineral Foundation (DMF) funds for works in non-mineral bearing areas, the Odisha government has asked all departments and district collectors of the state to ensure that no fund meant for mining-affected communities is transferred in any manner from the DMF to the state exchequer or any state level fund or Chief Minister’s Relief Fund, according to a new directive.

In a letter to all the departments and district collectors, development commissioner PK Jena wrote that the September 2021 circular of the Ministry of Mines on the DMF funds use as per section 9(B) of the MMDR Amendment Act, 2015 be strictly adhered when it comes to utilisation of money from the special fund.

The central government started the District Mineral Foundation Funds scheme in 2015 as a benefit-sharing scheme with the mining-affected communities under which the mining companies pay 30 percent of the royalty amount for leases granted before 2015 and 10 percent for the leases granted through the auction mechanism post-2015. DMF funds are non-profit and independent trusts linked to the Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Kalyan Yojana. DMF implements various welfare programmes for the mining-affected communities and the environment. At least 60 percent of the DMF funds should be utilised for high-priority areas.

However, the scheme has been beset with allegations of misuse and diversion of funds in Odisha, that has collected the largest amount of funds since the scheme started. Till January this year, Odisha collected ₹16,952.64 crore under DMF, around 28.7 per cent of the total DMF funds collected in the country. Though it has spent ₹8,515.71 crore, a or a little more than half of the amount, a study by the Centre for Social and Economic Progress on the use of District Mineral Foundation Funds published in January this year found that the state ranked at No. 5 when it came to Utilisation Index, a measure of how well the funds have been spent across various sectors. Odisha was ranked behind Chhatisgarh, Gujarat, Telangana and Karnataka.

Political leaders and NGO workers in the mining-affected districts said though Odisha has spent half of the funds it collected, most of the money was being diverted to projects which do not meet the criteria.

In March last year, the state cabinet approved the State Level Sports Infrastructure Development Project worth ₹356.38 crore for expansion of Kalinga Stadium Sports Complex in Bhubaneswar and construction of a new international hockey stadium in Rourkela for the 2023 Men’s Hockey World Cup, half of which would be spent from the DMF funds. In the mineral-rich Keonjhar, the district administration in 2019-20 sanctioned works for a handball stadium from the DMF funds. In January 2020, Sundergarh district administration bought 25 cars with the DMF funds for use as patrolling vans by Rourkela police. In 2017, the Jharsuguda district administration sanctioned ₹20 crore from the DMF funds for the Jharsuguda airport.

“The provisions of Section 9(B) of the MMDR Act would be strictly adhered to in respect of utilisation of funds by the District Mineral Foundation. No sanction or approval of any expenditure out of funds of the District Mineral Foundation would be done at the State level by the State Government or any state level agency. The above of government of India are to be followed scrupulously and only such projects sanctioned by the District Mineral Foundation Trust Boards for the respective District are to be implemented in accordance with the provisions of Odisha District,” Jena wrote.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA in Keonjhar, Mohan Majhi said the latest directive from the government to the district collectors may just remain another letter without its implementation. “The DMF fund is supposed to cater to a specific developmental need of mine-affected areas that can’t be dealt with in regular budgeting. But what we are seeing in Keonjhar is the use of the funds for mega drinking water projects which can be funded by normal budgeting. The Keonjhar medical college and hospital being built now has been funded by DMF which can easily have been funded by routine funds from central and state government schemes,” said Majhi.

Noted environmental lawyer Sankar Pani said though DMF funds are supposed to be used for minimising adverse impacts during and after mining on the environment, health and socio-economics of people in mining districts and to ensure long-term sustainable livelihoods for affected people in mining areas, none of the aims have been achieved in any of the districts. “In a district like Keonjhar where 30 per cent of the area has been mined for minerals like iron ore and manganese, the tribals at the receiving ends of the pollution can’t get treated in any of the dispensaries started by the mining companies. The first point of treatment in the district is a PHC which remains non-functional. What is the point of building a medical college and hospital far away from the mining areas which the poor tribal can’t reach,” asked Pani.

BJP MLA in Sundargarh, Shankar Oram said the people in the mining areas had high hopes that DMF funds would help better their lives. “From Hemgiri to Koira, a number of mining activities involving coal, iron ore, manganese, lime stone are going on. But people in these areas are still deprived of primary education, primary health, drinking water, road connectivity and electricity,” he said.

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