In News: India has grossly underestimated the issue of illegal mining, which damages the environment and causes revenue loss.
- With the increase in the pace of development, the demand for minor minerals such as sand and gravel has crossed 60 million metric tons in India.
- This also makes it the second largest extractive industry on the planet, after water.
- However, while laws and monitoring have been made stringent for the mining of major minerals consequent to the unearthing of several related scams across the country, the fact is that rampant and illegal mining of minor minerals continues unabated.
Issue of regulation
- Unlike major minerals, the regulatory and administrative powers to frame rules, prescribe rates of royalty, mineral concessions, enforcement, etc. are entrusted exclusively to the State governments.
- The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notifications of 1994 and 2006 made environmental clearance compulsory for mining in areas more than or equal to five hectares.
- However, the SC of India after taking cognisance of a report by the Ministry of Environment, on Environmental Aspects of Quarrying of Minor Minerals (2010) directed all State governments to make the requisite changes in the regulatory framework of minor minerals, requiring environmental clearance for mining in areas less than five hectares.
- Consequently, the EIA was amended in 2016 which made environmental clearance mandatory for mining in areas less than five hectares, including minor minerals.
- The amendment also provided for the setting up of a District Environment Impact Assessment Authority (EIAA) and a District Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC).
- However, a State-wise review of EACs and EIAAs in key industrial States such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, shows that these authorities review over 50 project proposals in a day and the rejection rate at the State level has been a mere 1%.
- The situation now indicates that the problem is even more complex and widespread and that a robust technology-driven enforcement approach is required.
Observations by agencies
- The United Nations Environment Programme, in 2019, ranked India and China as the top two countries where illegal sand mining has led to sweeping environmental degradation.
- It is not just damage to the environment. Illegal mining causes copious losses to the state exchequer.
- As per an estimate, P. is losing revenue from 70% of mining activities as only 30% area is legally mined.
- Similarly, the absence of royalty has caused a loss of ₹700 crore in Bihar while non-payment of various cesses due to unregulated mining has resulted in a loss of ₹100 crore to Karnataka and ₹600 crore to Madhya Pradesh in 2016-17.
Judicial orders, state response
- Judicial orders are often neglected by State governments.
- A State-wide review of the reasons behind non-compliance suggests a malfunction of governance due to weak institutions, a scarcity of state resources to ensure enforcement, poorly drafted regulatory provisions, inadequate monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, and excessive litigation that dampens state administrative capacity.
- Protecting minor minerals requires investment in production and consumption measurement and also monitoring and planning tools.
- To this end, technology has to be used to provide a sustainable solution.
The power of technology
- Satellite imagery can be used to monitor the volume of extraction and also check the mining process.
- Even for past infractions, the NGT and administrative authorities can obtain satellite pictures for the past 10 to 15 years and uncontrovertibly show how small hillocks of earth, gravel or small stone dunes have disappeared in an area.
- Additionally, drones, the internet of things (IoT) and blockchain technology can be leveraged to monitor mechanisms by using Global Positioning System, radar and Radio Frequency (RF) Locator.
Source: The Hindu
Previous Year Question
Q.1) Consider the following minerals: (2020)
In India, which of the above is/are officially designated as major minerals?
- 1 and 2 only
- 4 only
- 1 and 3 only
- 2, 3 and 4 only