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Mining leases for minerals may soon go coal block auction way

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  21 March 2015 12:00 AM GMT

The bill for development of mines and minerals, to bring a regime of auctioning blocks for prospecting, was passed by parliament on Friday even as opposition parties, notably Congress and Left Front, demanded a re-look by the select committee.

The bill was first put for voting in the Rajya Sabha after debate and 117 members were in its favour and 69 against it, but not before Steel and Mines Minister rendra Singh Tomar moved two amendments, based on the suggestions of the relevant select committee.

Accordingly, it was taken up again by the Lok Sabha — which had already passed its origil form on March 3 — and it was again okayed by a voice vote after a brief discussion.

Minister Tomar said he was happy that the select panel made the suggestions, which the government accepted. “These are good provisions. I am happy the Rajya Sabha endorsed it. But basic thrust has not changed,” he said.

Once the bill gets presidential consent, the new legislation will replace the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Ordince of 2015), promulgated on January 12.

Earlier, the select panel had sent the bill back on March 18 without changes. But it wanted the government to consider issues like impact of mining on the environment, illegal mining, lack of scientific methods, land acquisition and resettlement and use of windfall profits for local and tribal welfare.

Tomar said the new bill takes into account most of the recommendations of the select committee and will allow states to have a say in the auction and all revenues will go to them. “Mining contributes over 2 percent to the GDP, but is in deep crisis. It is one of the biggest employers. A revival will give jobs to our youth.”

He said there was also an urgent need for a transparent system. Taking the example of iron ore production, he said it was a matter of concern that its production had declined to 152 million tonnes in 2013-14 from 218 million tonnes in 2009-10. Primarily, the new bill seeks to introduce a regime of auction to grant prospecting licences, like for coal blocks. It proposes that there will no renewal of mining concessions, unlike the origil act of 1957. But it proposes a licence for 50 years as against 30 now.

The government has already identified 199 mines for auction. The proposed legislation also calls for the setting up of a District Mineral Foundation where mining takes place that will address the grievances of the people affected by mining, with a contribution not exceeding a third of the royalty rate.

Another body, the tiol Mineral Exploration Trust, shall be appointed by the central government for regiol and pan-India planning.

Some opposition parties, led by the Biju Jata Dal, opposed it saying it infringed on the rights of states — a stand earlier supported by the Congress and Trimool Congress. The opposition had also prevented its introduction in the Rajya Sabha where the treasury is in minority.

But on Friday, the Trimool Congress, Biju Jata Dal and Samajwadi Party supported it.

Among its other salient features, the new act, once in force, will add a new schedule to include mining of bauxite, iron ore, limestone and manganese ore, now called notified minerals, under its purview.

The new act will call for state governments to grant mining leases and prospecting license-cum-mining leases for notified and other minerals, with the central government’s approval, which will prescribe the terms and conditions for selection of bidders as also the procedure for auction.

The central government may also reserve some mines exclusively for some specific purposes, as also set the eligibility conditions for the same.

To plug another loophole that leads to arbitrariness, the central government will be permitted to increase the area allowed for mining, instead of granting additiol leases.

Presently, while 10 sq km is set as maximum limit for prospecting per lessee, a leeway is given to alter this. IANS

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