Study Material | Test Series
Drishti IAS
call1800-121-6260 / 011-47532596
Drishti The Vision Foundation
(A unit of VDK Eduventures Pvt. Ltd.)
prelims Test Series 2019
बेसिक इंग्लिश का दूसरा सत्र (कक्षा प्रारंभ : 22 अक्तूबर, शाम 3:30 से 5:30)
Illegal mining in India
Jan 03, 2015

Minerals are property of the state government, so finally the state is responsible for the mining of its land. That said, minerals are the property of the state but the resource of the nation. The government holds the mines in trust. People are the real owners and have the right to raise questions-including a demand for audit.

Illegal mining in India has become a menace not only to the people but also to the governments. Illegal mining robs the country of precious minerals and in return causes severe pollution and health hazards. The profit accrued is not or minimally shared with the government and the locals.

Activities constituting illegal mining:

  • Mining without a licence 

  • Mining outside the licensed area

  • Mining more than a permissible amount of mineral extraction

  • A company's renewal is pending but it still continues mining.

Catalyst behind illegal mining:

The loot of mineral wealth in India continues since 1990, as India stepped up its industrialisation and allied activities. Illegal mining rose due primarily to high demand from China (before the Beijing Olympics), which has fuelled growth of demand and also pushed up the prices. Because of this pressure of the demand and the prices, suboptimal deposits have also become attractive.

Hazards of illegal mining:

Although the hazards of illegal mining are similar to those of mining itself, illegal mining aggravates the situation without contributing to national gain. In this light, illegal mining contributes more to the hazards in the following way:

1) Health 

  • Workers are affected by lung diseases - Silicosis, a lung disease caused by breathing in silica dust. Despite an official order to provide compensation to the silicosis victims, nothing has been done so far. 

  • The workers also get affected by deadly diseases like tuberculosis and asbestosis.

2) Ecological Changes:

According to a Lok Ayukta Report, there have been severe ecological changes due to illegal mining. 

  • Certain species of animals, like the sloth bear, that in the Bellary region have disappeared. 

  • Some species of medicinal plants have become extinct. 

  • The system of rain is affected. 

  • The entire area surrounding the mining area is denuded of greenery and has no agricultural activity.

  • Tribes and animals are displaced.

  • Open-caste mining drastically alters the region's water supply, affecting both ecological systems and human communities. Open-cast mining was mulled in the Vedanta project in Odisha.

  • Several tens of thousands of trees are felled to make way for some (illegal) mines.

  • Other hazards include polluted local rivers, drying of some water sources (because of illegal extensive use of water in illegal mines), and damaged crops.

3) Spread of Maoism:

The growing awareness of the links between the spread of Maoism and tribal alienation due to mining is the government's thinking. What is most worrying is the high degree of convergence between areas that are mineral and forest-rich and areas that are the arenas of tribal deprivation and Left-wing extremist violence. Gandhi said. "Protecting the rights of tribals and ensuring their livelihood are central to bringing about an end to their exploitation and sense of alienation."  

4) Spread of Corruption:

The Shah Commission had pointed out that those engaged in illegal mining and exports had colluded with officials alluding corruption. 

A Lokayukta report uncovered major violations and systemic corruption in mining in Bellary, including in the allowed geography, encroachment of forest land, massive underpayment of state mining royalties relative to the market price of iron ore and systematic starvation of government mining entities. 

5) Illegal miners avoid compliance with the provisions of the Forest Rights Act.


Illegal mining in various states of India:

1) Beas tragedy and illegal mining in Himachal: Twenty-five members of a group from a Hyderabad`s college, who were on an excursion to Manali, were swept away in the river after sudden release of water from the reservoir of the Larji hydro-power project near Thalot. The group of students went inside the river bed following an approach road, which was reportedly built for illegal sand mining. The Beas brought to the fore the rampant illegal sand mining in interiors of Himachal Pradesh.

The "illegal mining" of sand and stone is rampant not only in the river beds in the border areas of the state adjoining Punjab and Haryana but also in interior areas of the state.

2) Illegal mining in Rajasthan: In 1992, the central government notified the Aravallis as an ecologically protected area. The SC in 2002 imposed a blanket ban on mining in the fragile range. To circumvent the SC order, the state mining and geology (DMG) department redefined the Aravalli hills.

According to this definition, the hills start 100 metres above the ground level. This means that the ground up to 100m level is not part of the Aravallis and hence can be leased for mining. The Geological Survey of India (GSI), however, rubbished this unscientific definition and advised the government "to include the slope of the hills above ground level as part of the Aravallis". But, the state government continued to propagate that its definition of the hills has GSI's.

Unfortunately, it seems that mining continues to flourish in the Aravalli region despite the ban. Illegally mined sand and grit caters to the booming construction industry in the national capital region.

Illegal mining in the mineral rich district of Rajasthan - Makrana, famous for its white marbles - prompted Rajasthan High Court to order closure of 474 such mines. However, the court order was restricted to paper.

3) Illegal mining in Goa, Odisha and Jharkhand: covered under M.B. Shah Commission.

  • Justice M.B. Shah Commission: It 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 and forests led to the illegalities and consequential ecological damage. It accused both the state and the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) of allowing illegal mining in Goa.

  • Extent of illegal mining reported: The commission reported that 90 mines were 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 during 2008-2011.

  • Criticism of Indian Bureau of Mines: The commission’s interim report put substantial responsibility on the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) for not taking up timely checks and cited many instances where it has been observed that boundary markings of the leased-out area are not clearly defined. The same is also true for the forest boundary pillar markings.  

    The commission called upon personnel from the Bureau to visit a mine at least once a month. Further, it held that the concerned officer would be held accountable for any wrong reporting, including any related to the boundary pillars of the mine.

  • Delays, deemed approvals and forest clearances : The Commission's report makes an interesting observation when it says that 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.  

    While relying on the observations of the Standing Committee on Coal and Steel (2006.07), the commission reiterated that "any delay in this regard could be interpreted as encouragement to the menace of illegal mining." 

    There has been extensive debate in the Supreme Court's forest case, where it was pointed out that even after the mine lease has been renewed, the forest related approvals often remain pending. More often than not, this is because there are either illegalities involved or a mine owner has not applied in time.

  • Domestic consumption and ban on exports: The Commission is of the view that export of iron ore and manganese ore needs to be banned for its preservation. The report took the view that iron ore fines are primarily exported and lumps ore is consumed domestically. The Commission was of the opinion that the blanket ban on exports may lead to the drop in price and will therefore also reduce illegal mining. What this would also result in is the transfer of surplus iron ore from mine owners to the consumer industries. While there may be some initial problem, such a ban may finally result the developing technology by which iron ore fines can be used by the domestic industrialists in the next few years. 

    The Commission's process of enquiry and preliminary findings has already created ripples and has had significant judicial and policy implications. Whether or not one agrees with the recommendations of the commission, it cannot be denied it has done a huge task of exposing the nature of illegal mining and corruption in the iron ore. 

    During the course of Commission’s findings, the Supreme Court had banned mining in several parts of states including Goa and Karnataka.

Illegal mining bigger scam than 2G:

Mining in India is a scam bigger than 2G or Commonwealth Games but has failed to catch people's attention because of difficulty in linking it with big political names, its eventual beneficiaries. It is difficult to estimate the loss to public exchequer because of illegal mining across states. To some, it is not less than Rs 1,76,000 crore estimated loss to government because of the 2G spectrum scam. And if, one estimates the damage to environment it causes, the loss would be of several lakh crore, enough to provide enough subsidized food grains to over 30 crore poor Indians around the year.

This points out at one malaise - inaction of the state governments to the complaints of illegal mining. To the contrary, the officials had leaked the information about the complaints to the illegal miners thereby compromising their security. It is a prime reason for many activists being killed or assaulted.

Lack of coordination as one of the pushing factors:

The lack of coordination between the Centre and States is evident from this: A minister of mines once admitted that once the mining leases are allotted, "the Center had little knowledge about what was happening on the ground.”

Coordination between centre and states will have to be improved further, to effectively control illegal mining. In a federal setup, state governments have their own rights, and the states will have to be committed to improve the situation by working jointly with the centre. Regular interactions are being held at Secretary level for better coordination between Centre and States.

Spill-over effects of illegal mining:

  • Acknowledging large scale illegal mining in various states, the central government in 2010 said this could lead to a nexus between criminal and anti-national elements, especially in Naxal-affected areas. 

  • Illegal mining led to its ban. The ban caused shortage of coal and iron in Indian industries. The shortage warranted import of these which was costly, ultimately hitting the exchequer again.

Various issues related to illegal mining include:

  • strengthening of central inspection system, 

  • relook at royalty rates (which the government recently increased), 

  • giving importance to environment concerns, 

  • illegal mining on the banks of river Ganga, 

  • role of officials meant to control illegal mining, 

  • involving local leadership in control mechanism, 

  • revisiting rules for sand mining, 

  • deliberation on setting up district level committee, and 

  • Mapping of illegal mining for putting up in public domain.

Deterrents to illegal mining can be at three levels: 

  • At the mining level: Illegal mining often occurs when there is mining outside the leased boundaries. Through a computerised mining tenement system, the Act will enable computeri-sation of leases and thereby tracking data, which, interfaced with satellite data, will identify illegal mining.

  • Ensuring proper accounting of material transported to a plant or port.

  • A mining regulator with powers to investigate into large scale illegal mining and prosecute. Special courts can ensure speedy trial of mining cases. Mining licences will be cancelled for anyone convicted of illegal mining, and will be debarred for all future concessions.

The National Mining Tribunal will ensure that the grant of the concession is done according to the law of the land. While it is not exactly a monitoring body, it will oversee the management of the process. Courts, the Lokayukta and other institutions are also in place to supplement these efforts.

What measures must the various government agencies take to arrest illegal mining?

  • Definition of a mining lease in terms of its GPS coordinates of a mining area for easy detection of any illegality. 

  • The state governments and the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) should coordinate better to see that the mine production tallies with the mining plan. 

  • When ore is transported from a mine to a plant or port, the state government should have a computerised 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. Shortly, India will have a computerised ore movement system that will track the complete production from end to end. This will be a big deterrent.

  • Most states have many vacancies in those departments for geologists, which have not been filled for various reasons.

  • The Railways has now changed the system to ensure illegal mining ore is tracked. Earlier, each wagon would be loaded separately. Now, they weigh the entire rake at one go, and tally the sum total of the weight on the loading trucks with the load on the rake.

  • Port authorities have been asked to check cargo being loaded at the dockyard for state of origin and certify it for "royalty paid".

  • Lastly, our system needs tightening: If someone applies for a mining licence but does not obtain it for five or six years, he is fed up. Our regulatory systems need to be improved and systems simplified.

Mineral resource rent tax: 

This tax is levied in Australia. This model is not suitable in India because it includes a federal tax on a state resource. It may conflict with the Indian constitutional principles.

Steps taken by Government:

While State Government formulates Rules to control illegal mining, the Central Government has been advising and coordinating activities and initiatives to help all States, to curb illegal mining, inter-alia as follows:-

  • A Central Coordination-cum-Empowered Committee has been set by Government, with representation from State Governments and Central Ministries concerned, to consider all mining related issues, including specifically, matters relating to coordination of activities to combat illegal mining at regular intervals. 

  • The State Governments have been advised to set up State Coordination-cum-Empowered Committee (SCEC) to coordinate efforts to control illegal mining by including representatives of Railways, Customs and Port authorities. Separately the State Governments have also been advised to prepare and adopt an Action Plan with specific measures to detect and control illegal mining including, use of remote sensing, control on traffic, gather market intelligence, registration of end-users and setting up of special cells etc. 

  • The Central Government amended Rule 45 of the Mineral Conservation and Development Rules, 1988, making it mandatory for all miners, traders, stockists, exporters and end-users to register with the Indian Bureau of Mines and report on movement of minerals to Indian Bureau of Mines and State Government as one of the measures to combat illegal mining.

The Ministry of Coal and Coal India Ltd (CIL) has taken several steps to prevent illegal mining coal mining. These are as follows:-

  • Rat holes created by illegal mining are being dozed off and filled up with stone and debris wherever possible. Concrete walls have been erected on the mouth of the abandoned mines to prevent access and illegal activities in these areas.

  • Regular raids/ checks being conducted by security personnel

  • Surprise raids/checks being conducted jointly by security personnel and law and order authorities of the concerned State Government.

  • Fencing is being constructed at the various illegal mining sites along with displaying of signboards mentioning “dangerous and Prohibited Place”.

  • Collection of intelligence reports about illegal coal depots and illegal movement of coal and informing district authorities of the same for taking preventive actions.

  • Installation of check-posts at vulnerable points to check transport documents.

  • Training of existing security personnel, refresher training of CISF personnel and basic training of new recruits in security discipline for strengthening the security setup.

Changes observed:

Mainly because of the proactive stance taken by the Central Government on the issue, the following developments have been reported:  

  • Eighteen States have framed Rules under Section 23C of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 to control illegal mining. 

  • Twenty one States have set up Task Force at State and/or District level to check illegal mining as per the instruction of Central Government. 

  • Thirteen State Governments have set up a Coordination-cum-Empowered Committee.  

  • Five States have digitized the total mining area.    

  • State Governments of Rajasthan and Orissa have reported to have commenced using satellite imagery. Rajasthan has digitized mining area in GIS environment and superimposed on digital toposheets supplied by Survey of India. 

  • State Governments of Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Orissa have reported to have started use of holograms/ bar codes in the transport permits. 

Illegal mining has a causal relation with the inflation in the country as most of the illegally mined ores were exported leaving little for domestic use. It is high time the Government acted on it with harsh hands. In doing so, it has to balance between the needs of the economy, interests of the local people and environmental concerns.

Helpline Number : 87501 87501
To Subscribe Newsletter and Get Updates.