Centre to direct states to utilise Rs 24.5k cr DMF funds for fight against Covid

Financial Express | Surya Sarathi Ray | April 30, 2021

As per the latest government data, states have spent only Rs 21,512 crore or less than 50% of the Rs 45,977 crore accumulated so far under the DMF fund with contribution from mining lease holders.

The Centre will soon direct states to better utilise the staggering Rs 24,500 crore, lying unspent with district mineral foundations (DMFs), in the fight against the pandemic. The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2021 empowers the Centre to give directions to states regarding utilisation of the fund under DMFs.

As per the latest government data, states have spent only Rs 21,512 crore or less than 50% of the Rs 45,977 crore accumulated so far under the DMF fund with contribution from mining lease holders.

The poor utilisation is despite Centre’s March 2020 suggestion, as part of the first tranche of the Atmanirbhar package, to the state governments to utilise the fund for augmenting facilities for medical testing, medical screening and other requirements to deal with Covid-19 pandemic.

As per the MMDR (Amendment) Act, 2015, lease holders are required to contribute to the not-for-profit DMFs between 10-30% of the royalty, in addition to the royalty paid to state governments. The Act mandates state governments must establish DMFs in all districts affected by mining-related operations.

Sources in the mines ministry said that a directive will be issued soon to the states to better use the fund to bridge the health infrastructure gap at the district and the state level and to provide necessary healthcare support to the people.

“We are considering all aspects to see how the DMF fund can be better used to fight against coronavirus. We are planning to issue some directions to the states as to where the fund can be used, how it can be used and others very soon,” said a senior official in the mines ministry. The direction may be issued in the next few days.

As per the guidelines, 60% of the DMF funds is to be used for ‘high priority sectors’ such as drinking water supply and education and the remaining 40% for ‘other priority sectors’ such as physical infrastructure, energy and cowshed development.

The DMF funds collections have been the highest in mineral-rich Odisha (Rs 12,186 crore), followed by Jharkhand (Rs 6,533 crore), Chhattisgarh (Rs 6,470 crore), Rajasthan (Rs 4,664 crore) and Telangana (Rs 3,000 crore).

State to source DMF funds for infrastructure complex

The New Indian Express | Oct 05, 2020
Each complex will accommodate about 150 to 200 senior citizens/destitute, 100 to 200 children with physical disabilities and 50 children with intellectual disabilities.

BHUBANESWAR: Faced with delay in taking up projects resulting in cost overruns as well as funds crunch, Odisha Government has decided to go for construction of integrated infrastructure complex, including old age homes, with the funding support from District Mineral Foundation (DMF).

In 2016, Government had envisaged construction of old age homes and rehabilitation centres in all 30 districts as mandated under Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 to ensure a peaceful life to the neglected and destitute senior citizens as well as widows and mentally retarded children.

The five-year project started in 2017 was to be completed by 2022. Though work initially started in nine districts – Bhadrak, Khurda, Puri, Cuttack, Ganjam, Nabarangpur, Kandhamal, Sambalpur and Malkangiri and Rs 70 crore has been released out of the State budget so far, only around 20 per cent work is complete.
Initially the work was hampered due to land dispute, delay in land alienation and local agitations but the pandemic cast a shadow this year.

“In some districts, construction work started after land disputes were resolved and with help of police in June last year,” said an official.Meanwhile, it has been decided that the infrastructure complex in nine districts – Jharsuguda, Keonjhar, Koraput, Angul, Dhenkanal, Jajpur, Sundargarh, Rayagada and Mayurbhanj – will be funded by the DMF and construction of centres in rest 12 districts will be taken up from the State budget.

Accordingly, the total cost of the project has been revised to Rs 1,191.58 crore of which Rs 858.22 crore has been proposed to be met from State budget and balance Rs 333.36 crore from DMF. The infrastructure complex having old-age home, disabilities rehabilitation centre, facilities for vocational training, meditation and prayer hall and other supporting amenities will be built on 25 acre of land.

The Collectors of districts where the facility will be built with funds from DMF have been directed to furnish firm commitment for funding the project. NGO or agency which would be engaged in managing the integrated complexes will bear the maintenance cost out of the grants received by them.

“It has also been decided to deploy one officer along with five support staff to monitor the functioning of the complex. District administration will identify the NGO and in case, a corporate organisation agrees to fund major portion of the cost of the project, such organisations will be allowed to select the NGO to run it,” the official said.

Each complex will accommodate about 150 to 200 senior citizens/destitute, 100 to 200 children with physical disabilities and 50 children with intellectual disabilities.

Project plan
Infrastructure complex to be constructed in 30 districts
Total cost of the project has been revised to Rs 1,191.58 crore
Rs 858.22 crore to be met from State budget
Rs 333.36 crore from DMF

Surat, a tinderbox

Frontline | June 19, 2020

Gujarat’s industrial zones and its shipping, fisheries and handicraft sectors, besides its medium, small and micro entreprises (MSMEs), employ lakhs of people from across the country. Census 2011 says there are 2.9 crore intra- and inter-State migrants in Gujarat. Surat in southern Gujarat, a hub of diamond cutting and polishing as well as textile trade, is a draw for workers, both skilled and unskilled, from within and outside Gujarat. An estimated 70 per cent of Gujarat’s informal workforce is based in Surat.

When the lockdown was announced, many employers in the Surat belt apparently promised to look after their workers during the shutdown. As the weeks went by and the lockdown kept on getting extended, employers reneged on salary promises citing financial constraints. Workers began to get restive as they ran out of money and it became hard to pay for food and board. Eyewitness accounts say thousands of men slept on Surat’s pavements or tried to find shelter in public spaces.

The government made a few feeble attempts at feeding and setting up camps for migrants. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and citizen volunteers tried to fill the gap, but the scale of the crisis was too overwhelming. The breaking point came in early April when migrant labourers went on a rampage on the streets, setting fire to carts and public property. About 80 migrants were arrested. A month later, lakhs of migrants were still stranded in Surat. Three more incidents of violence were reported, the worst on May 9 when thousands came out on the streets when they learnt that the Odisha government had cancelled three trains assigned to take back migrants. Some 200 workers were arrested.
A study by the Gujarat government’s Centre for Social Studies and Department of Education shows that Surat’s powerloom industry and textile sector employ around 12 lakh workers, of whom 7.5 lakh are from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha. An estimated 2 lakh construction workers and 1.5 lakh unskilled labourers find employment in the industrial zone of Hazira.
Ashok Shrimali from SETU: Centre for Social Knowledge and Action, an organisation based in Ahmedabad, said that workers in Gujarat were grouped according to their skills. For instance, the entire workforce of construction labourers may come from one district of Bihar or Uttar Pradesh.

In mid May, some NGOs and Jignesh Mevani, independent Member of the Legislative Assembly, brought to public attention how 70,000 workers were being held captive by their contractors in the Mora-Hazira belt near Surat. Mevani told Frontline that he had spoken to several workers and their condition was grave. In a letter to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, which Mevani shared with the media, he said:

“We [he and a few NGOs] have found that all of the workers who we spoke with have not received wages since the lockdown. The industries are running at a low capacity, and the few workers working there during the lockdown receive only lunch. The panchayat support has been woefully inadequate—some workers report that they received only ten days of ration in the lockdown which has extended for over 50 days. Many of the workers have been threatened by their landlords that they will be evicted. In one case, the water supply of the household has been cut off. The administration has stalled the returning process for over 10 days. In addition to that workers are saying that they are being charged Rs.700 per head to go back home. Instead of ensuring their timely payment of wages and adequate ration, we have been responsible for keeping them poor, hungry and desperate to go home. A worker said to us that he would rather have ‘namak and roti’ with his parents than suffer here.”

With little help from the governments of Gujarat and their own home States, migrant workers in Surat began the long march home. Those who saw them on the highways say it was a humanitarian crisis of the worst kind. Anand Mazgaonkar from the Gujarat Sarvodaya Mandal said: “It has reduced to a trickle now, but in the early days there were hundreds on the road. The saddest thing was that during the day it was too hot to walk, so they waited until night. At night the police said there was curfew and would not allow them to walk. Many began walking through fields and finding small byroads to get on the highway. They are ordinary workers. Why should they have to sneak through at night like criminals?” He spoke of an incident where the police promised to help transport workers to the next town but then left them in the lurch in the middle of nowhere without any explanation.

“There has been a complete breakdown in the State’s machinery,” Mazgaonkar said. “In Surat, the municipal corporation provided them [migrants] shelter in what appear to be homes for beggars and the homeless. We went to some of them but did not find any migrants. Contractors had been assigned to find people and house them in these shelters. Even that seemed to be a racket. On speaking to several migrants, we found that they had registered wherever they could as they were told this was the process to get on a train. It is anyone’s guess what happened to those forms, because only those who could pay or had some connection via their labour contractor could get on a Shramik Special. In fact, train schedules were not revealed even when NGOs tried to help with online services. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most have found their way home on their own. Truck drivers were giving lifts and it seems like the administration has turned a blind eye.”
A tehsildar in Ahmedabad told Frontline that it could take months for the government to send back the migrants as one train carried a maximum of 1,200 people. “We are hoping the lockdown lifts and workers can go back to work and this problem is off our hands,” he said.

Shrimali from SETU said: “The migrant labour issue in Gujarat has been simmering for some time. SETU has been working on the trends and patterns of Gujarat’s migrants for several years. We believe that because contractors violate registration rules, the issue was never understood until the pandemic came and this invisible workforce made its presence felt.” He explained that construction labourer is, for instance, required to be registered with the State’s Building and Construction Board. Yet very few are registered, which enables the contractor to violate labour laws. Companies perpetuate the practice by turning a blind eye.

How to kill a forest

The Hindu | Soumya Sarkar | April 13, 2019

On a fine morning in the spring of 1974, a small girl ran to Gaura Devi, raising an alarm that loggers had come to cut down trees in the mountain forest. On that day (March 25), there were no men present in the remote village of Reni in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Gaura Devi gathered the women in the village and rushed to confront the contractor.

An argument ensued. The men with axes refused to budge. But the women of Reni were not to be cowed down. In a flash of inspiration, they decided to hug the trees and the loggers had not option but to leave. It was a high point in an epochal environmental movement that resonates even today, at a time when new moves are afoot to separate India’s forests from her people. Read more

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