Amendments are required in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill to make it people-friendly, says Oxfam India

Oxfam India has pitched for making changes in the proposed Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill, introduced in Lok Sabha last year, that seek prior and informed consent of local communities to be made mandatory before granting any kind of concession.

The organisation has demanded that the Gram Sabhas should issue a public notification prior to granting a concession, and should accept objections for at least 30 days thereafter. Special provisions should be included for Scheduled Areas to avoid undermining the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) structure of governance. According to the organisation, authorities should also be required to seek the consent of the Tribes Advisory Council.

“The affected communities should be given free shares of equity worth 26 per cent, with clear mechanisms for redistribution and ownership. Publicly-owned companies should award a 26 percent ownership of equity to affected communities. Embedding ownership of communities in the law provides the legal basis required for them to intervene in cases of illegal activities, and ensures that they receive a fair share of the benefits,” Nisha Aggarwal, the CEO of Oxfam India.

“This grants local communities a stronger bargaining position against mining companies, which may help undermine the notorious lack of transparency of the sector. Where the lease-holder is an individual, the 26 per cent share of profit should be awarded as an annuity,” she adds.

According to her, the right of local communities to exploit natural resources should be respected -- mining cooperatives should be prioritised where possible, and be made mandatory in PESA areas. 

Pointing out that the proposed Bill allows mining leases of up to 100 sq km and such expanses of land would often encompass several villages. Therefore, it was important that this size should be brought down to 10 sq km to allow better oversight. The Bill also increases the allowed duration of a lease from 20 to 30 years. This duration is an obstacle to efficient oversight of the mine and should be reduced to 10 years.

Seeking clarity on the definition of an “affected person”, Ms. Aggarwal said it should rely on unambiguous indicators that could capture the social, cultural and environmental impacts of the project. It should not only include people displaced by a mine, but also those whose livelihood is otherwise affected. The current version of the Bill guarantees a “reasonable compensation” to affected persons, but gives state governments the liberty to define its exact amount. It has to be clarified and the Bill should define a minimal amount for compensation, linked to a dynamic index such as the Consumer Price Index.

She also demanded that institutional frameworks should be strengthened by making guidelines on environment and social responsibility more specific.

The Sustainable Development Framework (SDF), the government’s guidelines for environmental and social sustainability, should rely on clear indicators that can capture the social and environmental impact of an industry. The Bill should clarify which parties are responsible for implementing the SDF, monitoring it, and enforcing that no mining takes place outside of its purviews. Similarly, Environmental Impact Assessments should be made more transparent.

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