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Supreme Court's verdict on Illegal mining
Aug 17, 2017

[GS Paper III: (Linkages between development and spread of extremism)]

On August 2, the Supreme Court (SC) imposed  100% penalty on illegal mining on account of lack of forest and environment clearances, mining outside lease/permitted area and for encroachment beyond the mining area in Odisha. The 100% penalty will be levied on the miners’ total value of illegal extracts over the years.

Background

  • The SC’s directions have come in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed in 2012 by NGO Common Cause seeking a check against lease-holders for rampant illegal mining in Odisha.
  • In 2014, the court had setup a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to investigate the matter and identify those who were operating the leases in violation of the law. 
  • The CEC had identified 131 iron ore and manganese ore mines which did not have statutory approval and were operating even though their lease had lapsed.
  • CEC had recommended that 30% notional value be realized from illegal mining companies.
  • The Justice M.B. Shah Commission set up by the central government in November 2010 to look into the illegal mining of iron ore and manganese in the country had also pointed to large-scale illegal mining especially in Odisha.
  • In the mining sector, there has been prevalence of corruption, excessive exploitation of natural resources and it has become a curse for the forest dwellers and tribal community.
  • Illegal mining leads to disruption of ecological system, poses health hazards to mine workers , and catalyzes spread of naxalism in such areas.

SC’s verdict

  • SC has observed that the National Mineral Policy (NMP) of 2008 has failed to check illegal mining of natural resources and has directed the Centre to revisit the policy.
  • The SC has directed that the compensation amount recovered as penalty should be used for "benefit of tribals in the affected districts".
  • The amount thus recovered will go towards a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) created by the Government of Odisha in 2014.
  • It gave directions for setting up of an expert committee presided over by a retired judge to identify the lapses that have occurred over the years with regard to mining and recommend preventive measures.
  • Supreme Court in this case has gone beyond a mere affirmation of the ‘polluter pays’ principle and has taken a stringent action against undue exploitation of natural resources.

Regulations and Organizations Dealing with Mining Activities

  • Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, amended in 2015, lays down the rules and regulation for mining sector in India. The amended act established District Mineral Foundation (DMF) in districts affected by mining related operations.
  • National Minerals Policy was first declared by the Government in 1993 for liberalization of the mining sector.
  • The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 lays down provisions for ownership, use, relief, development and management of forest and forest land.
  • The Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) established in 1948, is a multi-disciplinary government  organisation under the Department of Mines, Ministry of Mines which promotes systematic and scientific development of non-fuel and non-coal mineral resources of the country  through regulatory inspections of the mines, approval of mining plans and environment management plans.
  • Central as well as State Coordination-cum-Empowered Committees (CEC) are also set up to coordinate efforts to control illegal mining by including representatives of Railways, Customs and Port authorities.

PT Facts 

  • Justice M.B. Shah Commission was set up by the Government of India in 2010 on illegal mining of iron ore and manganese in Goa, Odisha and Jharkhand. Its report, submitted in 2013, said that lack of coordination within the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change led to the illegalities and consequential ecological damage.
  • The 'polluters pays' principle is the commonly accepted practice that those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment. For instance, a factory that produces a potentially poisonous substance as a byproduct of its activities is usually held responsible for its safe disposal.


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