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Illegal Mining of Minor Minerals

GS Paper 3

Syllabus: Environment Conservation

 

Source: The Hindu Editorial section

Context: India has grossly underestimated the issue of illegal mining, which damages the environment and causes revenue loss.

Direction: Just go through the article once, to understand the issue. Can note a few points.

Status:

  • Demand for minor minerals such as sand and gravel has crossed 60 million metric tons in India.
  • 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, rampant and illegal mining of minor minerals continues unabated.
  • 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.

 

Examples: There have been numerous cases of the illegal mining of dolomite, marble and sand across the States. In Andhra Pradesh’s Konanki limestone quarries alone, 28.92 lakh metric tonnes of limestone have been illegally quarried.

 

Issue with the regulation of Minor Minerals

  • Under different state laws: 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.
  • Issue with EIA 2016: 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%.
  • Environmental issues: In the Yamuna riverbed in UP, increasing demand for soil has severely affected soil formation and the soil holding ability of the land, leading to a loss in marine life, an increase in flood frequency, droughts, and also degradation of water quality.
    • Such effects can also be seen in the beds of the Godavari, the Narmada and the Mahanadi basins.
    • In the Narmada basin, sand mining has reduced the population of Mahseer fish from 76% between 1963 and 2015.
  • Loss to state exchequer: As per an estimate, U.P. is losing revenue from 70% of mining activities as only 30% area is legally mined.
  • Poor implementation of recommendations: The report of the Oversight Committee by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Uttar Pradesh (where illegal sand mining has created a severe hazard) has either failed or only partially complied with orders issued regarding compensation for illegal sand mining. Such lax compliance can be seen in States such as West Bengal, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh too.
  • Reasons for poor compliance: 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.

Conclusion:

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 e.g., Satellite imagery can be used to monitor the volume of extraction and also check the mining process.

Recently, the NGT directed some States to use satellite imagery to monitor the volume of sand extraction and transportation from the riverbeds.  Additionally, drones, the internet of things (IoT) and blockchain technology can be leveraged to monitor mechanisms by using the Global Positioning System, radar and Radio Frequency (RF) Locator.

 

Insta Links

MINES & MINERALS AMENDMENT BILL

 

Mains Link

Q. Explain the distribution of major non-metallic minerals in India. Critically Analyze the National Mineral Policy, 2019 in revitalizing the mining sector, increasing output and focusing on responsible and sustainable mining. (15M)

 

Prelims Link

Q. Consider the following minerals: (UPSC 2020)

    1. Bentonite
    2. Chromite
    3. Kyanite
    4. Sillimanite

In India, which of the above is/are officially designated as major minerals?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 4 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 2, 3 and 4 only

Answer: D

Bentonite is an absorbent swelling clay consisting mostly of montmorillonite (a type of smectite). The main uses of bentonite are in the drilling mud and as a binder, purifier, absorbent, and carrier for fertilizers or pesticides.