Context:

  • Supreme Court on 2nd August, 2017 directed that mining companies and leaseholders, who have engaged in mining activities without forest or environmental clearance, will have to pay the public exchequer a compensation equivalent to 100% value of the minerals they extracted illegally.

Illegal mining in various states of India: Statistical Data:

Himachal: 

  • During 2016-17 financial year, 8,500 cases of illegal mining were detected in Himachal Pradesh, and a compounding fee of Rs 4.50 crore imposed on them.
  • Similarly, during 2015-16 financial year, 9,303 cases of illegal mining were detected, and a compounding fee to the tune of Rs 4.01 crore imposed on them.

Rajasthan: 

  • Mining Surveillance System (MSS), launched in October 2016, detected 23 cases of illegal mining in Rajesthan.
  • As per figures, Rajasthan government identified about 269 schemes in Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Kalyan Yojana (PMKKKY).

Illegal mining in Goa, Odisha and Jharkhand: 

  • More than 90 mines are functioning in Goa without the mandatory permission from the National Board for Wildlife, and 33 of them were located within 1.5km of wildlife sanctuaries.
  • The Commission also reported illegal mining worth over Rs 22,000 crore in Jharkhand, unlawful ore exports to the tune Rs 2,747 crore from Goa minerals worth about Rs 60,000 crore were illegally mined in Odisha.

Causes of illegal mining:

  • There is a lack of coordination within the Ministry of Environment and forests that led to the illegalities and consequential ecological damage.
  • There is also a lack of timely checks by the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM)
  • The boundary markings of the leased-out area are not clearly defined.
  • One of the reasons that illegal mining thrives is the lack of timely renewals for mining.
  • The responsibility is on the mine owners, who don’t apply in time, and also on the various regulatory authorities where the applications are not processed in time.

Current government initiatives to detect illegal mining:

Mining Surveillance System (MSS):

  • The mines ministry on October 15, 2016, came out with mining surveillance system (MSS).
  • MSS is a satellite-based monitoring system, which aims to check illegal mining activity through automatic remote-sensing detection technology.

Utility:

  • The technology will MSS will trigger an alarm whenever there is an instance of illegal mining outside permitted areas.
  • This technology will help design planned development of mining as also provide complete data of laborers working in the sector online, which will lead to better safety standards, the minister noted.
  • The system checks 500 meters around the existing mining lease boundary to search for any unusual activity relating to illegal mining. Any discrepancy is flagged off as a trigger.
  • Automatic software leveraging image-processing technology will generate automatic triggers of unauthorised activities. These triggers will be studied at a remote-sensing control centre of IBMand then transmitted to district-level mining officials for field verification.
  • A check for illegality in operation is conducted and reported back using a mobile app.
  • There are in total 3,843 mining leases of major minerals in India, of which 1,710 are working and 2,133 non-working mines. Most working mines have been digitised. Efforts are on to complete digitization of non-working mines and will be completed in 3 months.
  • A similar process is under way to launch a system for minor minerals in tandem with state governments. Haryana, Telangana and Chhattisgarh have been selected for a pilot launch.

Mining Tenement System (MTS):

  • For another technology, IT services have been selected, through a tender process, to develop the Mining Tenement System (MTS).
  • MTS is an online computerized register that is intended to bring computerisation and automation in the functioning at directorates of mining and geology (DMGs) of 11 states, IBM, GSI and the mines ministry.
  • The system will display applications under process, ownership and details of area granted, period of concession, taxes, compliance of rules and regulations, area available for grant of concession, quality and quantity of the ore deposit, portion relinquished after reconnaissance or prospecting operations, land details with ownership and the like.

100% Compensation:

  • With rise in the mining scams, the Supreme Court on 2nd August, 2017 directed that mining companies and leaseholders, who have engaged in mining activities without forest or environmental clearance, will have to pay the public exchequer a compensation equivalent to 100% value of the minerals they extracted illegally.
  • The court gave the Centre a deadline of December 31, 2017, to announce a fresh and more effective, meaningful and implementable National Mineral Policy.
  • Of a total of 187 mining lease holders in Keonjhar, Sundergarh and Mayurbhanj districts, 102 were found to have had no environmental or forest clearance.
  • Yet these miners had illegally extracted minerals worth Rs. 17,577 crore over the years.

Effects of Mining:

There are two widely used ways of mining: strip mining (Strip mining involves scraping away earth and rocks to get to coal buried near the surface) and underground mining.

Impacts of strip mining:

  • Strip mining destroys landscapes, forests and wildlife habitats at the site of the mine when trees, plants, and topsoil are cleared from the mining area. This in turn leads to soil erosion and destruction of agricultural land.
  • When rain washes the loosened top soil into streams, sediments pollute waterways. This can hurt fish and smother plant life downstream, and cause disfiguration of river channels and streams, which leads to flooding.
  • There is an increased risk of chemical contamination of ground water when minerals in upturned earth seep into the water table, and watersheds are destroyed when disfigured land loses the water it once held.
  • Strip mining causes dust and noise pollution when top soil is disrupted with heavy machinery and coal dust is created in mines.

Impacts of underground mining:

  • Underground mining causes huge amounts of waste earth and rock to be brought to the surface – waste that often becomes toxic when it comes into contact with air and water.
  • It causes subsidence as mines collapse and the land above it starts to sink. This causes serious damage to buildings.
  • It lowers the water table, changing the flow of groundwater and streams. For example:
  • In Germany for example, over 500 million cubic metres of water are pumped out of the ground every year. Only a small percentage of this is used by industry or local towns – the rest is wasted.
  • What’s worse is that removing so much water creates a kind of funnel that drains water from an area much larger than the immediate coal-mining environment.
  • Coal mining produces greenhouse gas emissions.

Common health threats posed by coal mining:

  • Pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung disease or CWP, is caused when miners breathe in coal dust and carbon, which harden the lungs.
  • Cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, lung disease, and kidney disease have been found in higher-than-normal rates among residents who live near coal mines.
  • Toxic levels of arsenic, fluorine, mercury, and selenium are emitted by coal fires, entering the air and the food chain of those living nearby.
  • Mine collapses and accidents kill thousands of workers around the world every year. For example:
  • Chinese coal mine accidents killed 4,700 people in 2006.

Recommendation:

  • The state governments and the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) should coordinate better to see that the mine production sums up with the mining plan.
  • When ore is transported from a mine to a plant or port, the state government should have a computerized weigh bridge system to track the mineral right from the mine gate to the port so that any weight in excess of mined amounts will show up and will be deemed illegal.
  • The Railways has needs to have a strict system to ensure that illegal mining ore is tracked.
  • Lastly, our system also needs to be strict with mining license.
  • Port authorities need to check cargos while being loaded at the dockyards.
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