Tapping technology to check minor mineral loots

India has grossly underestimated the problem of illegal mining, which damages the environment and causes lost revenue

India has grossly underestimated the problem of illegal mining, which damages the environment and causes lost revenue

With the pace of development increasing, the demand for smaller minerals such as sand and gravel in India has exceeded 60 million tons. This makes it the second largest raw materials industry in the world after water. Although laws and policing for mining of major minerals have been tightened following the uncovering of several related scams across the country, the fact is that rampant and illegal mining of smaller minerals continues unabated. In many cases one comes across gravel being removed from agricultural land or government brownfields near major highways or construction projects as the contractor finds it easier and cheaper, although the estimates for such work include the distance (called “lead” ) to transport such gravel from authorized quarries.

issuance of the regulation

Unlike major minerals, the regulatory and administrative powers of formulating rules, imposing royalties, mineral concessions, enforcement, etc. are entrusted solely to the state governments.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notices of 1994 and 2006 made environmental clearance mandatory for mining in areas larger than five hectares. However, the Supreme Court of India, upon hearing of a report by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change on Environmental Aspects of Minor Minerals Extraction (2010), ordered all state governments to make the necessary changes to the regulatory framework for minor minerals that would provide an environmental clearance for the Mining required in areas less than five acres. As a result, the EIA was amended in 2016, making environmental clearance mandatory for mining on areas less than five hectares, including minor minerals. The amendment also provided for the establishment of a District Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (EIAA) and a District Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC).

However, a federal review of EACs and EIAAs in key developed countries such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu shows that these agencies review over 50 project proposals in one day and the rejection rate at the state level was a mere 1%. This raises the pertinent question of whether the introduction of clearances alone can help to eliminate irregularities in the illegal mining of minor minerals. The situation now shows that the problem is even more complex and widespread and that a robust, technology-enabled enforcement approach is needed.

The problem of illegal mining of minor minerals is often underestimated, thereby increasing undesirable environmental impacts. There have been numerous cases of illegal mining of dolomite, marble and sand in the States. For example, 28.92 lakh metric tons of limestone was mined illegally in the Konanki limestone quarries in Andhra Pradesh alone. However, the relentless pace of sand mining is a cause for serious concern.

Agency observations

In 2019, the United Nations Environment Program ranked India and China as the two countries where illegal sand mining has led to widespread environmental degradation. Despite this, there is no comprehensive assessment to assess the extent of sand mining in India. Nonetheless, regional studies such as that by the Center for Science and Environment of the Yamuna Riverbed in Uttar Pradesh have observed that the increasing demand for soil has severely affected the soil formation and soil holding capacity of the land, resulting in a loss of marine life. an increase in flood frequency, droughts and also a deterioration in water quality. Such effects can also be observed in the layers of the Godavari, Narmada and Mahanadi basins. Sand mining has reduced the Mahseer fish population by 76% between 1963 and 2015, as found in a study of the Narmada Basin.

It’s not just bad for the environment. Illegal mining causes high losses to the treasury. By one estimate, UP is losing revenue from 70% of its mining activity because only 30% of the acreage is being mined legally. Similarly, the lack of royalties in Bihar has resulted in a £700m loss, while non-payment of various levies due to unregulated mining has resulted in a £100m loss for Karnataka and £600m for Madhya Pradesh over the years 2016-17.

Court Orders, Government Response

Court orders are often neglected by state governments. As stated in the report of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Oversight Committee, Uttar Pradesh (where illegal sand mining poses a serious threat) has either failed or only partially complied with the enacted orders for compensation for illegal sand mining. Such lax compliance can also be seen in states such as West Bengal, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

A nationwide review of the reasons for non-compliance suggests a governance malfunction stemming from weak institutions, a lack of state resources to ensure enforcement, poorly drafted legislation, inadequate monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, and excessive litigation that undermine state administrative capacity steam .

The protection of minor minerals requires investment in production and consumption measurement, monitoring and planning tools. To this end, technology must be employed to provide a sustainable solution.

The power of technology

Satellite imagery can be used to monitor the mining volume and also to verify the mining process. Also for past violations, the NGT and managing authorities can obtain satellite images from the last 10 to 15 years and show irrefutably how small mounds of earth, gravel or small stone dunes in an area have disappeared. Recently, the NGT has directed some states to use satellite imagery to monitor the volume of sand extraction and transport from river beds. The well-planned execution of these orders increased the revenues from mining smaller minerals in all of these states.

In addition, drones, the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain technology can be used to monitor mechanisms using Global Positioning System, Radar and Radio Frequency (RF) Locator. State governments like Gujarat and court orders like the Madras High Court have used some of these technologies to control illegal sand mining.

Amar Patnaik is a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, from Odisha. A former Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) officer and academic, he now practices law. The views expressed are personal

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