TODAY -

Mining and fraudulent clearances in Manipur

Jajo Themson *



Even though mining sector has good contributions to the Indian economy with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contribution varying from 2.2% to 2.5%, contributing a gross GDP of around 11% to the industrial sector, even small scale mining contributes about 6% to the entire cost of mineral production and mining provides job opportunities to about seven lakhs individuals, it encompassed with several marred and controversies in India.

The Mining Industry is also notorious on dimensional human right violations, forest and environmental issues and procedural lapses confronting legal frameworks as well as judgments of the principal courts of India. Numerous tussles are commonly involved in this sector where lack of proper consultation, undermining the rights of spontaneous and independent decision of indigenous land and resource owners, absence of transparency and accountability, lack of detail impacts assessments and deadlock over legal framework. Besides, the industry faced severe jolts of high profile mining scandals.

Additionally, explosion of methane gas, cold dust, carbon monoxide poisoning, dead blow to ecosystem and Environment like pollution of river water, ponds and surrounding, deforestation, impacts on human health and livelihood and animal habitation, social displacement due to wide area coverage or for safety on contamination of water and poisoning of nearby trees and threat of radiation and dimensional human rights violation on militarization are common issues related to mining projects.

Major discords in Mining

There have been several areas of confrontation between mining acts and court’s judgments in regard to ownership of mineral resources and implementation of Green laws. These contestations are the reasons why so many controversies intertwined the sector. Section 24A (2) of the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulations Act, (MMDRA) 1957 states that the tribal or indigenous peoples are the occupiers of surface of the land in the context of social, cultural, religious, economic, tradition and usufructs of tribal forested land.

On the other hand, constitution of India under Sl. No. 54 of the Central list in the VIIth Scheduled, circumscribes the states on legislation but will be bound by the Central legislation. Overall power of controlling and decision making for major minerals are vested with the Central govt. Rules 15 of the MMDR Act, 1957 also provides Power to the state Govt. to make rules in respect of minor mineral only.

Still in another noteworthy vein, the Supreme Court (SC) of India, in its Order dated 16th July 2013 stated that, “Ownership of minerals should be vested with the owner of the land and not with state govt.” It is also worth mentioning the SC judgment on Samata Bauxite Mining case, 1997, clearly recognized the rights of the tribal on land stating non-transferable to non-tribal and so cannot be leased or handed over for mining.

In another relevant case, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) halted the Odisha Bauxite Mining project based on forest rights of the Scheduled Tribe & Other Traditional Forest Dwellers in the line of socio-cultural and religious perspective. Moreover, as per provision of V & VIth Scheduled of the Indian constitution, Autonomous District Council (ADC) has the absolute right to decide in this regard.

Amendments of MMDRA, 1957 have been made in 2015 known as MMDR Act 2015. This act was countered for empowering central govt over states. State Governments are entitled to only clerical paperwork making the states more dependent on central govt. Also there has been various criticisms on introduction of MMDR Amendment Bill 2021. The act faces stiff opposition from quarters because of providing short cut system of mining license for mineral exploration and clearances.

It is also negated as it provided rights to take up any mining activities immediately as soon as gas, oil and other ores are discovered. The Act of 2021 diluted the powers of Gram Sabhas to give consent or stop mining in its respective areas. Thus, all the amendment acts of 2015 and 2021 enhanced the controlling attorney of the Central Govt., more freedom given to mining companies and casted out the rights of the communities who literally owned resources.

In another development, the Drafted Environment Impacts Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 gave ample room for ease of doing business at the cost of environment and local communities. The notification gives a dead blow to the pro-people and pro-environmental legislation like the FRA, 2006 which upholds the community involvement in the protection and conservation of environment.

The defective points of drafted EIA, 2020 are power on the industries and project proponents to start works before obtaining environment clearances – post-facto clearance route, previous provision of holding public hearings have been diluted and complete exemption of such hearing in the projects like linear projects in the border areas including highways, dilution of the norms for post clearance compliances and lowered down standard of EIA reports from the existing system are some of the key areas where multiple objections are raised.

Mining push in Manipur without clearances

The Directorate of Trade Commerce and Industries (DTCI), Govt. of Manipur had granted Mining Lease in August, 2018 for Rs. 50 crores. Subsequently, GoM and Rourkela Minerals Company Pvt. Ltd. signed an agreement on 23rd February, 2019 for taking up chromium mining at Shingcha-Gamnom, Kamjong District, Manipur @ 85.0 hectares for twenty years.

The Gulf Natural Resources Pvt Ltd. based in Gurgaon signed an agreement for chromium mining with the Village Authority of Kwatha Village, Tengnoupal district on 5th October 2016 and GoM signed contract with the M/s Sarvesh Refractory Pvt. Ltd. to mine Chromite from Shirui - Lunghar Villages of Ukhrul District. The GOM has leased out limestone quarry to one Guwahati-based M/S Super Ores and Mines Pvt. Ltd. for a period of 20 years.

The DTCI conceded an area of 47 acre belonging to Hundung Cement Factory for lease to M/s. Ramung Enterprises, Imphal to set up a 400 TPD Cement Plant on 18 November 2018. Mailiang Village in Kamjong district, is also targeted for Limestone mining @ 50 sq km land area and for establishment of a factory at the Village.

Apparently, in the Pre-Feasibility Study Report prepared by Mining companies in Manipur like M/s Rourkela Minerals Company Pvt Ltd. from Odisha, M/s Sarvesh Refractory Pvt Ltd., M/s Gulf Natural Resources Private Limited and others, it is described that the entire mining lease areas in Shirui-Lunghar, Shingcha and Kwatha etc. are devoid of forest or agricultural land and the entire mining lease area are unclassed Govt. land.

It was a gross misinformation and trickery. The logic behind the report of non existence of forest in the mining lease villages implicates forest clearance unnecessary. In fact, land and forest areas are useful for different cultivation purposes basic to tribal communities’ livelihood since olden days. In reality, the right eastern portion of the Wuya-Kachui of Shingcha village, Shirui to Lunghar and Kwatha village in Tengnoupal district are thickly forested villages.

Interestingly, other than furnishing wrong information, the whole process of negotiation, Lease out and agreement were done without any knowledge and consultation to the concerned community people. The false and irrational Pre-Feasibility Study Report of the companies is nothing but taking lame excuses to exempt from mandatory clearances and for free hand mining execution. Absence of such mandatory clearances manifests frauds and illegality of the planned chromium and limestone mining in the hill districts of Manipur according to judgments of the SC and NGT mentioned above.

Clearances are mandatory

Forest and Environment clearances are mandatory for mega projects including mining. As per the judgment of the Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Om Dutt Singh Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh and Ors. in O.A. No. 521 of 2014, dated 7th May, 2015, projects of vast magnitude and impact should be appraised in terms of its environmental impact. Mining, including underground mining is a non-forestry activity.

For any forest area, before the grant of mining lease (ML) prior approval of Central Govt. is essential. The Forest Act would apply not only to the surface area which is used in mining, but also to the entire underground mining area beneath the forest.

Moreover, the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 (FCA, 1980), regulates the Diversion of forest for non-forest activities which requires prior clearances from the Ministry of Environment and Forest – Climate Change (MoEFCC). The FCA, 1980 & Forest Rights (Recognition of Scheduled Tribe & Other Traditional Forest Dwellers on forest) Act, 2006 (FRA, 2006) operate through corresponding rules and guidelines.

Section 2 of the FCA, 1980 provides certain guidelines which state Govt. cannot proceed without approval of the Central Govt. in the activities like De-reservation of reserved forest land, Use of forest land for non-forestry purpose and Assignment of forest land through lease or otherwise to any private person or any agency/corporation/organization which is not owned/managed/ controlled by the state govt. clearing of trees that have grown naturally in a forest land or portion of it, for the purpose of using it for re-forestation.

Basic procedures in acquiring mandatory forest clearance

While implementing the necessary conditions stipulated in FRA, 2006, one of the most important thing the project authority has to do is to seek Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) of the affecting community people. As per the Union MoEFCC Circular of 3rd August, 2009 on FRA compliance under section 3(1)I, 3(1)e and 4(5), a series of documental evidence are required to be enclosed to prove the compliance of FRA.

It included- a letter from the state Govt. certifying that the complete process for identification and settlement of rights under FRA has been carried out for the entire forest areas proposed for diversion, record of all consultation and meetings held, a letter from the state Govt. certifying that such diversion (with full details of the project and its implications) have been placed before each Gram Sabha/Village Assembly, a letter from each of the concern Gram Sabha, indicating that all formalities have been carried out, and have given their consent to the proposed diversion and the compensatory and ameliorative measures, a letter certifying that discussions and decisions was taken at a quorum of minimum 50% of members of the Gram Sabha present, Obtaining the written consent or rejection, a letter from the state Govt. certifying that the rights of primitive tribal Groups and Pre-Agricultural communities, have been specifically safeguarded as per section 3(1)(e) of the FRA.

Series of community objections

There have been series of objections from Civil Societies organization and concerned villagers in Manipur especially in the hill districts against the proposed chromium and limestone mining. The main reason behind is either due to fraudulent clearance undermining the rights of the resource owners or due to complete absence of such mandatory clearance. The concerned villagers neither have detail knowledge about mining plan nor were consulted, confirming that no consent ever sought from the indigenous community so far.

This is the prime factor why the villagers of Shingcha, Kamjong district, in its Emergency Assembly held on 27 September, 2020, resolved to stand against the proposed chromium mining plan at Shingcha village. Further, the Rilram Area Maring Organisation (RAMO), Tengnoupal district on 3 October, 2020 unanimously resolved to prohibit any forms of No Objection Certificate (NOC) or agencies or departments related to mass mining of chromite.

Moreover, Village chiefs of Molnoi and representatives of students’ and women organisations, Tengnoupal district on 8th October, 2020 resolved to stand against any form of mining in Manipur without recognition of peoples’ rights over their land, resources and consent. In yet another development, the Tangkhul Naga Long (TNL) on 27th November, 2020 expressed its grave concern and called to desist mining in Ukhrul and Kamjong districts.

Conclusion

In the light of the above discussion, it is crystal clear that the proposed chromium and limestone mining in Ukhrul, Kamjong and Tengnoupal district in Manipur are without mandatory clearances. It is a fraud and illegal as per the NGT court judgment 7th May, 2015 as well as undermined the Supreme Court Order dated 16th July 2013, defeating the rights of mineral ownership of indigenous land and mineral.

It also violates the right and powers conferred upon the Autonomous District Council under the V & VI Scheduled of the Indian constitution. Further, the same also defeats the SC judgment on Samatha Bauxite Mining case, 1997 which clearly recognized the rights of the tribal on land and resources.

Therefore in conclusion, it is compelling that project developers and mining companies strictly adhere to the procedural norms, rules and guidelines of the Ministry of Environment and Forest-Climate Change (MoEFCC) and comply the relative judgments of the Supreme Court and NGT on mineral mining. Least impacts on forest and environment and their mitigating measures through standard Detail Impacts Assessment (DIA) are compulsive in the interest of safeguarding the fragile world ecosystem.

Full and legitimate clearances should be acquired. Necessary conditions provided in the FRA, 2006 in acquiring mandatory clearances should be fully complied so that there is transparency and accountability in the process.

In the absence of which, the initiative of chromium and limestone mining projects are not free from diverse angles of confrontation from environment, health, livelihood, land and resource ownership rights and other human rights complications. If mining is for development, be it a sustainable development that doesn’t inflict environment and victimize human being. Additionally, mineral mining should be pro-environment and pro-social perspectives so that the true terms of sustainable development could be achieved.


* Jajo Themson wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at thmsontezonge(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on August 23 2021.



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