Panel to probe limestone mine blast in Kadapa; 10 lakh each to kin

The New Indian Express | May 10, 2021
In a press release, the minister said the inquiry committee, headed by Kadapa Joint Collector (Revenue), will conduct a detailed probe into the mishap.

KADAPA: Minister for Panchayat Raj and Mines Peddireddy Ramachandra Reddy formed a high-level committee with officials from five departments to probe Mamillapalle limestone mine blast, which claimed 10 lives. The committee was directed to submit a report in five days. Meanwhile, Rs 10 lakh was announced as immediate financial assistance to the bereaved families, from the District Mineral Foundation Trust.

In a press release, the minister said the inquiry committee, headed by Kadapa Joint Collector (Revenue), will conduct a detailed probe into the mishap. Citing a preliminary report submitted by the Kadapa district Collector, Peddireddy said negligence on part of the mine operator while unloading the explosive material (gelatin sticks) caused the explosion.

While one C Kasturibai secured the mining lease in 2001 till November 1, 2021, it has been operated by C Nageswara Reddy under a general power of attorney since December 2013. The minister said rules of handling explosives were violated and legal action will be taken against the mine operator. Further, the mine operator will be made to pay additional compensation to the victims’ families as per the Labour Act.

He said operators of other mines were being alerted to ensure all safety measures to prevent such blasts in future. Based on the complaint from mines department assistant director Ravi Prasad, police registered a criminal case against mine operator Nageswara Reddy. Postmortem for all 10 bodies was completed but as only two bodies were identified by the family members, police have sent the samples to the Forensic Lab in Vijayawada for DNA tests. A Bomb squad inspected the site to ensure there were no explosives.

Ballari financially self-sufficient for handling COVID-19: Anand Singh

The Hindu | May 10, 2021

He says it will make use of funds from District Mineral Foundation

Pointing to the huge cash reserves of District Mineral Foundation (DMF) lying with the district administration in Ballari, Minister for Infrastructure Development, Haj and Wakf Anand Singh, who is also the district in-charge Minister, said that there was no dearth of funds for tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The administration had, a few weeks ago, resolved to use the DMF funds, which was accumulated from the contributions of the mining companies and originally meant for taking up development and rehabilitation activities in mining-affected areas, for COVID-19 containment activities including the expansion of healthcare facilities in the district.

“The district has a large amount of DMF funds and there is no need for the district administration to seek money from the government for handling the pandemic. We will use the DMF funds to take up extensive pandemic containment activities. Saving people’s lives is our first priority. We will positively take the suggestions from all the people’s representatives for controlling the pandemic and incorporate them in our plans,” Mr. Singh said.

He was addressing a review meeting held at a conference hall of the PDAA Football Grounds in Ballari on Monday.

Anticipating the third wave of the pandemic, Mr. Singh said that the administration was already making all the preparations to face the situation by expanding the medical infrastructure not just at the district headquarters but at the taluk centres.

“We have decided to provide each taluk hospital with 10 ventilators and 10 dura cylinders. As many as 40 ventilators sent by the State government have already reached Ballari. We are in the process of expanding and upgrading the existing medical facilities by increasing the bed capacities, appointing additional health staff including doctors and nurses and equipment. In addition to 109 ambulances working in the district, we have planned to purchase more ambulances. We will shortly establish VRDL laboratories at Hosapete and Huvina Hadagali. Oxygen plants would be set up at each taluk hospital. The DMF funds would be used for the purpose,” Mr. Singh said.

The establishment of a temporary hospital with 1000 oxygenated beds, including 40 Intensive Care Unit beds, Mr. Singh added, is being taken up at Toranagal with the assistance of JSW Steel.

“The work is on a fast track. A public notice has been issued expressing interest in recruiting the required staff – expert doctors, staff nurses, lab technicians and others. The hospital is expected to be functional shortly.”

Referring to the increased number of COVID-19 deaths in the district as compared to other districts, Deputy Commissioner Pavan Kumar Malapat told the meeting that the patients with respiratory problems being rushed to the hospitals at an advanced stage was the major reason for the increased deaths. On the vaccination progress, the officer said that of the 6,01,191 people in the 45-59 year age group, 3,22,879 had taken the first dose and 31,573 had taken the second dose. Of the targeted 1,74,345 people above 60 years, 1,37,546 had taken the first dose and 33,733 had taken the second dose.

Social Welfare Minister B. Sriramulu, Lok Sabha member Karadi Sanganna and others were present.

In Odisha, funds meant for mining-affected communities are being diverted to urban areas

Scroll | Manish Kumar | May 09, 2021
Those living in mining areas have been seeking assistance for basic amenities for decades.

During the latest budget Session of Odisha’s Legislative Assembly, the Odisha government’s Cabinet in March approved several proposals but the one that raised eyebrows was to use the District Mineral Foundation 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 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 squeezed from the District Mineral Foundation funds.

In another mining district of Keonjhar, the district administration in 2019-’20 sanctioned works for a handball stadium, and invested around Rs 5,00,000 for a patient facilitation centre for Cuttack-based medical college which is around 200-km away from Keonjhar.

In January 2020, the administration of the Sundergarh district bought 25 cars with the District Mineral Foundation 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 funds. In the same district, the funds were also used to construct the boundary walls of the Circuit House.

The list of instances where the 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 as District Mineral Foundation 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 District Mineral Foundation collections in the state are rising in the state. While it was Rs. 395.44 crore in 2015-2019, in 2019-’20 the total annual collections stood at Rs 3,079.20 crore.

Though Odisha has a significant amount of the 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 District Mineral Foundation 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% of the funds in priority areas while 40% 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 PK 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 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,” he said. “But the governments often diverts these important resources away from the vulnerable community. They try to use the 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.”

Pollution mess
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-km 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,” said Meher, who himself is a tuberculosis patient. “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.”

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 km 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,” Mishra told Mongabay-India. “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.”

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 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, which is in an urban area.

The provision of District Mineral Foundation 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.

Funds diverted
Experts working on the issue of mining in Odisha and other states claim that the 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 said, “In districts like Keonjhar, the salaries of doctors are now being paid through the funds which should ideally be coming from the state’s budgetary allocations.”

“Collectors find the funds sometimes hard to dispense and thus divert it for numerous urban-centric works,” he said. “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.”

Ramesh Agarwal, a leading Indian environmentalist based in Raigarh in Chhattisgarh said, “The rules of funds have been framed in such a way that the district collector gets the power to sanction the funds with the approval of the local District Mineral Foundation 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 on the usage of the District Mineral Foundation funds in different mining districts of Odisha found that despite lower social and health indicators the allocation of the 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 has been provided for child development out of the district’s Rs 745 crore sanctions. This is at a time when the under-five mortality rate in rural areas of the district is as high as 67, and nearly 50% of the children below this age are victims of stunted growth,” the report said.

Srestha Banerjee, Programme Head, International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology, who played a key role in producing the Centre for Science and Environment report, said the constitution of the District Mineral Foundation committee in the districts is one of the main problems.

“The District Mineral Foundation 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 funds in their areas,” Banerjee told Mongabay-India. “The mining laws permit the administration to use part of the 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.”

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 District Mineral Foundation fund allocations. She also demanded that the 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.

Andhra Mining Minister orders high-level inquiry into Mamillapalle blast

Yahoo News | May 09, 2021

Amaravati (Andhra Pradesh) [India], May 9 (ANI): Andhra Pradesh Mining Minister Peddireddy Ramachandra Reddy on Sunday ordered a high-level inquiry into the Kadapa district blast in which 10 people died.

The Mining Minister’s office informed that an inquiry committee is formed and Kadapa joint Collector (revenue) will lead the committee. Officers from five departments — mining, revenue, police, mines safety and explosives — are members in the committee. The committee has to submit its report to the government on the tragic mishap in five days. District collector has already submitted a preliminary report.

The Minister expressed his concern over the demise of ten persons in that accident. He assured full government support to the families of the bereaved.

Minister said that compensation of Rs 10 lakhs for bereaved family members and Rs 5 lakhs for injured is being given from the fund of district mineral foundation trust. The blast took place due to negligence of lease holder, he alleged.

Earlier on May 8, 10 people died in an explosion due to gelatin sticks near Mamillapalle village in the Kalasapadu area of Kadapa district on Saturday. Four persons are missing after the incident which took place near Mamillapalle village of Kadapa’s Kalasapadu Mandal. (ANI)

Bombay HC stays post-facto CRZ clearance for projects

Hindustan Times | Prayag Arora-Desai | May 08, 2021
The Bombay high court (HC) on Friday stayed a recent office memorandum issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), allowing the ex-post facto approval of projects that have not yet obtained coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) clearance under the CRZ Notification, 2011

The Bombay high court (HC) on Friday stayed a recent office memorandum issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), allowing the ex-post facto approval of projects that have not yet obtained coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) clearance under the CRZ Notification, 2011.

The stay was in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a Mumbai-based environmental group, challenging the constitutional validity of MoEFCC’s direction. The matter has been listed for final hearing on June 30, before a two-judge bench comprising chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice GS Kulkarni.

The impugned office memorandum, dated February 19, and authored by joint secretary of MoEFCC’s CRZ division Sujit Kumar Bajpayee, was also stayed by the Madurai bench of the Madras HC on April 29, in response to a different petition.

MoEFCC’s office memo would have allowed projects – typically permitted as per CRZ, 2011, but did not seek requisite clearances prior to commencement –to become regularised subject to fulfilment of certain conditions.

“Bringing such projects and activities in compliance with the environmental laws at the earliest point of time is therefore essential, rather than leaving them unregulated and unchecked, which will be more damaging to the environment,” Bajpayee had written to the environment secretaries of all coastal states.

“As the project commenced construction and/or operations without a prior CRZ clearance, the respective coastal zone management authority shall assess the environmental damages caused by such an action and shall give specific recommendation in respect of activities, corresponding to the environmental or ecological damage assessed, to be taken up by the project proponent within a period of three years from the date of clearance, under compensatory conservation plan (CCP) and a community resource augmentation plan,” stated MoEFCC’s February 19 office memorandum, which has been reviewed by HT.

“This circular empowers coastal authorities/MoEFCC to regularise all kinds of CRZ violations on a day-to-day basis, making it easier for environmental violators to evade substantive law. It further encourages a “pollute and pay” principle rather than the ‘precautionary principle’. A public interest litigation is filed by Vanashakti on the ground that this circular is arbitrary, wholly unconstitutional and in direct contravention of recent Supreme Court judgments,” said Mumbai-based NGO Vanashakti, at the time of filing their PIL before HC on March 30.

Experts also pointed out while the amended CRZ (2019) notification has come into force, contingent coastal zone management plans (CZMP) as per the same have not yet been finalised. Until such a time, CRZ 2011 rules should remain in force, Vanashakti’s petition clarified, adding that neither notification allows for grant of ‘ex-post facto CRZ clearance’ which the MoEFCC’s office memorandum proposes to facilitate.

HC has also stated that if any permission has been granted or any application has been received for any such CRZ regularisation by a violator since February 2019, then such persons and industries are to be informed of the proceedings stemming from Vanashakti’s PIL.

“All such permissions and applications will be subjected to the outcome of the present PIL,” said Vanashakti’s advocate, Zaman Ali. A copy of the HC order is not yet available. The Madras HC, meanwhile, is set to take up the matter on August 25, in response to a PIL filed by R Fatima of Thoothukudi.

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