Beating technology to control small mineral spoilage

India has greatly underestimated the issue of illegal mining, which damages the environment and causes loss of revenue

India has greatly underestimated the issue of illegal mining, which damages the environment and causes loss of revenue

With the increase in growth rate, the demand for minor minerals like 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 tightened on major mineral mining as a result of several related scams being exposed across the country, the fact is that rampant and illegal minor mineral mining continues unabated. In many cases, one encounters the removal of gravel from agricultural land or government fallow near major highways or construction projects, as the contractor finds it easier and cheaper to do so, even though the estimates for such work include distance (called “lead ‘) for transporting such gravel from authorized quarries.

Setting issue

Unlike large minerals, regulatory and administrative powers to make rules, set royalty rates, mineral concessions, enforcement, etc. are assigned exclusively to state governments.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notifications of 1994 and 2006 made environmental clearance mandatory for mining in areas greater than or equal to five hectares. However, the Supreme Court of India after taking cognizance of the report of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change on Environmental Aspects of Minor Mineral Mining (2010) directed all the state governments to make necessary changes in the regulatory framework of of minor minerals, which requires environmental clearance for mining in areas smaller than five hectares. Consequently, the EIA was amended in 2016, which made environmental clearance mandatory for mining in areas smaller than five hectares, including minor minerals. The amendment also provided for the establishment of a Provincial Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (EPA) and a Provincial Expert Assessment Committee (EAC).

However, a state-by-state review of EACs and EIAAs in key industrial states such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu shows that these authorities review more than 50 project proposals in a day, and the rejection rate at the state level was just 1%. This raises a related question as to whether the introduction of permits alone can help 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 strong technology-driven enforcement approach is required.

The problem of illegal mining of minor minerals is often underestimated, thus intensifying the undesirable environmental consequences. There have been many cases of illegal dolomite, marble and sand mining across the States. For example, in Andhra Pradesh’s Konanki limestone quarries alone, 28.92 lakh metric tonnes of limestone have been mined illegally. However, the relentless pace of sand mining is raising serious concerns.

Comments from agencies

The United Nations Environment Program, in 2019, ranked India and China as the top two countries where illegal sand mining has led to sweeping environmental degradation. However, no comprehensive assessment is available to assess the scale of sand mining in India. However, regional studies such as those of the Yamuna Riverbed Science and Environment Center in Uttar Pradesh have observed that increasing demand for land has severely affected soil formation and the earth’s soil-holding capacity, leading to the loss of marine life. increase in frequency of flooding, droughts and also degradation of water quality. Such effects can also be seen in the beds of the Godavari, Narmada and Mahanadi basins. As pointed out in a study on the Narmada basin, sand mining has reduced the Mahseer fish population by 76% between 1963 and 2015.

It’s not just damage to the environment. Illegal mining causes abundant losses to the public exchequer. According to one estimate, UP loses 70% of revenue from mining activities, as only 30% of the area is mined legally. Similarly, absence of royalty caused a loss of ₹ 700 crore in Bihar, while non-payment of various rebates due to uncontrolled mining led to a loss of ₹ ₹ crore in Karnataka and ₹ ₹ crore in Madhya Pradesh in 2016-17.

Court orders, state response

Court orders are often ignored by state governments. For example, as per the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Scrutiny Committee report, Uttar Pradesh (where illegal sand mining has created a serious hazard) has either failed or only partially complied with the orders issued regarding compensation for illegal mining sand. Such lax compliance can also be seen in states like West Bengal, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

A nationwide review of the reasons for non-compliance points to governance dysfunction due to weak institutions, lack of state resources to ensure enforcement, poorly worded regulations, inadequate monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, and excessive differences that reduce state administrative capacity.

Protecting minor minerals requires investment in production and consumption measurement as well as monitoring and planning tools. To this end, technology must be used to provide a sustainable solution.

The power of technology

Satellite imagery can be used to monitor mining volume and also to control the mining process. Even for past violations, the NGT and the administrative authorities can get satellite images for the last 10 to 15 years and show conclusively how small mounds of soil, gravel or small stone dunes have disappeared in an area. Recently, the NGT directed some states to use satellite imagery to monitor the volume of sand mining and transportation from river beds. The well-planned execution of these directions has increased the revenue from the mining of minor minerals in all these states.

In addition, drones, internet of things (IoT) and blockchain technology can be leveraged to track 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. Former Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) bureaucrat and academic, now practicing law. The opinions expressed are personal

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