Proposed amendments to Coal Bearing Areas Act will change land acquisition for mining: Experts

Source: Down to Earth

Relevance: Implications of the amendments to Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) [CBA] Act, 1957.

Synopsis: The proposed amendments to the CBA Act are likely to grant more control to private corporations, make tribal land acquisition easy. An analysis.

What is the CBA Act?

The Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957 provides for the acquisition of land containing, or likely to contain, coal deposits and for matters connected therewith. Under the provisions of this Act, the land is acquired for government companies only for coal mining and activities strictly incidental to mining.

The law was primarily meant to facilitate the acquisition of coal reserves for Coal India Limited, a public undertaking with a significant role in India’s energy production.

Proposed amendments

The new amendment bill will bring three important changes:

  1. Changes in federal structure of coal sector: The new amendments are likely to change the federal structure of the coal sector. The central government, after the bill is passed, would be responsible for the acquired land. However, once the acquisition is done, the land and mining rights would be delegated to the states which can lease the acquired land or coal deposits to an eligible company.
  2. Use of acquired land: The second big change would be regarding the use of acquired land. It could be used for constructing coal-related infrastructure, allied activities or other public purposes. The 1957 Act did not allow this. In fact, it clearly stated that the land acquired for the mining of coal could only be used for the extraction of coal. Apart from this, under the MMDR (Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation) Act, the miners are obligated to restore the land to its former condition after the completion of mining.
  3. Lignite (low-grade coal minerals) could now be mined along with coal. To this end, appropriate changes will also be made in the Colliery Control Rules, 2004 and Coal Blocks Allocation Rules, 2017.
Must Read: Does India need more coal power?
Implications
  1. Land acquisition for coal mining: More than 80% of the country’s coal reserves are in tribal areas. Most of them come under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. Both PESA and Forest Rights Act are applicable over this land, making prior consent of the local Gram Sabhas a constitutional provision. The process of land acquisition in these areas will become easier via these amendments.
  2. Land-use: The acquired land would be allowed to be used for other purposes. The 1957 Act restricted land use for only coal mining. Coal India Ltd has acquired a lot of lands for coal mining. But now it could be used for building infrastructure and ‘public purpose’ projects.
  3. Control beyond lease period: Through these proposed amendments, once the lease is granted, private companies would continue to have control over the acquired land even after mining activities are completed and will be able to continue ancillary activities.
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