Beach mineral mining – Why ‘Illegal’ is not the right adjective?

Mining is one subject that eludes common understanding. So it becomes easy for phony mining experts of the media to toss about terms like ‘illegal mining’ to jack up the attention-grabbing quotient of their news stories. It is no wonder then that lay people consuming these stories reserve suspicious glares for all mining operations. But the mining industry is the bedrock for all industries and an inimical public stance against it is unhealthy for the whole economy.  So let me use this blog to defog the haze surrounding the term ‘illegal mining’

What can we call ‘Illegal mining’ in India?

Illegal mining has been defined by rule 2(iia) of the Mineral Concession Rules, (MCR) 1960 as follows :

“Illegal mining” means any reconnaissance or prospecting or mining operation undertaken by any person or a company in any area without holding a reconnaissance permit or a prospecting licence or as the case may be, a mining lease as required under sub-section(1) of section 4 of the Act.

So calling mining by lessees holding valid licenses as ‘Illegal mining’ reeks of gross ignorance. If you read through the allegations that these news reports stack on the beach mineral mining companies, you will know that when they say illegal mining what they actually mean is that the mined ore is in excess of what is mentioned in the initial mining plan. This can be termed plainly as ‘excessive mining’ or ‘over-mining’. But ‘illegal mining’? That’s clearly an overkill.   

Excessive mining – How bad is it?

But if you tell me “What’s in a name? Excessive mining sounds bad too”, then you need one more dose of a clarifier. So let’s go back to the rule book and see what it says about mining plans and mining above the limits mentioned in them.

As per section 5(2)(b) of the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation  (MMDR) Act, 1957, a mining plan is essential for grant of mining lease. Mining plan is for the entire lease period. It includes a tentative scheme of mining and annual excavation plan for five year periods. At the end of each five year period, the scheme of mining is subject to fresh approval. At the start of mining activity, a tentative scheme of mining is conceptualized based on preliminary information on geology and reserves. Laying the limits for annual production for the entire lifespan of 20- 30 years, at the time of approval of mining plan, is not practicable since complete information on geology and reserves is not available.

(From the answer of Shri Vishnu Deo Sai, Min of State, Ministry of Mines to Question 1086 in Lok Sabha on 02-03-15)

So Rule 10 of MCDR, 1988 provides for modification of mining plan in the interest of safe and scientific mining, conservation of minerals, or for the protection of the environment. Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM), the regulatory body for Mines has been allowing deviation up to 20% of the tentative annual production indicated in the approved mining plan. This relaxation is subject to the condition that the cumulative effect of deviation should not distort the approved ore to over-burden/waste ratio. Only excess ore production, which is more than 20% of the tentative annual production quantity indicated in the mining plan, is considered as a contravention of the provisions of MCDR, 1988.

The Right Recourse for Excessive MIning

Ok now let’s say a miner, deviated more than 20 %, what happens next? The IBM is then authorized to issue violation notices or show cause notices to the lessees and a window of time for rectification of mining plan is allowed. If the lessee continues to violate after that then the IBM can launch prosecution against the lessees in court and suspend mining operations.

In the case of Beach mineral mining in Tamilnadu, nothing has happened that made such escalations necessary. But media persons with half-baked knowledge aided by business rivals flung a shroud of illegality over the mining companies which has resulted in the far excessive ban. Sadly, even the normal recourse that the law has provided has been denied. No show cause notices have been issued, no rectification demanded by the regulator and no time given for rectification. A sensational media report, a public interest litigation, an absurd committee report, and lo, an industry-crippling ban has been imposed by the Government. As the proverb goes, a little knowledge is definitely a dangerous thing!       

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