Opposition backs Minister’s proposal

An altogether novel idea of revamping the heavy mineral sand-mining activity in the State by handing over that task to Kudumbasree units mooted by Labour Minister Shibu Baby John here on Saturday has received support from RSP leader N.K. Premachandran and CITU leader and CPI(M) State secretariat member M.M. Lawrence.

Mr. John put forth the idea as an effective decentralised way to counter the rampant smuggling of heavy mineral rich sand from the State for a Tuticorin-based private company. Mr. Premachandran saw positive prospects in the idea and wanted it to be seriously discussed.

Mr. Lawrence went one step ahead by saying that the Kudumbasree role into the mining sector should not remain experimental but be endorsed by the government. He said that privatisation of the mining sector would mean mechanisation through which jobs would be lost. The Kudumbasree idea if translated into reality would mean creating more employment.

The Opposition support to the Kudumbasree proposal from the Minister was witnessed at a debate on the mineral sand sector organised by the Kollam Press Club. The three leaders were invited to address the event. They also affirmed that there should not be any alteration to the accepted principle that the mining of heavy mineral sand should remain only in the public sector.

Mr. Premachandran said it appeared rather puzzling to note that whenever the United Democratic Front (UDF) was in power, privatisation of the mineral sand-mining movement gathered momentum. Mr. Lawrence too voiced the same opinion.

Mr. John agreed to that point raised by Mr. Premachandran and Mr. Lawrence. He at the same time said that privatisation of the mineral sand-mining sector had never cropped up for discussion at any Cabinet meeting. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had only stated that value addition of the mineral wealth of the State would be promoted in the private sector.

The Minister said that his party, the RSP(B), was unequivocally and unambiguously committed to maintaining mineral sand-mining in the public sector. But if at any point of time the UDF government decided to include the private sector too in the mineral sand-mining arena, his party would go for a rethink on its political stand vis-à-vis the UDF. Mr. John called for unanimity among political parties to address the issue in an effective manner.

He said it was also a fact that the State had not been able to utilise its mineral wealth in the right manner. In the 100-year-old industry, only mining and mineral separation were taking place even now. In fact, on the global level, India was not making even a contribution of 5 per cent towards value addition.

Though the Chavara unit of the public sector Indian Rare Earths functioning under the Atomic Energy Commission had an installed capacity of two-lakh tonnes since 2007, production had never crossed 50 per cent of the capacity and at present it had dipped to as low as 10 per cent.

Mr. Premachandran said that Mr. Chandy and Industries Minister P.K. Kunhalikutty had never made their stands clear on the privatisation of the mining sector. This was creating the present confusion. The Central government policy was pro privatisation of the mining sector.

Based on the power of discretion vested with the State governments, the UDF and the LDF whenever in power endorsed only the public sector role for mining. But a High Court direction in February this year calling upon the State government to consider a private sector role in mineral sand-mining was not being contested by the UDF government. Does this mean endorsing privatisation? he asked.

Mr. Lawrence too said that the Chief Minister’s stand on the issue was rather evasive and that was seen as a ruse to privatise the mineral sand-mining sector. He reiterated his allegation that the Secretariat dharna last week by trade unions, including the CITU, demanding mining rights for a private company was an exercise funded by the private company in question and it was unfortunate that the CITU had a role in it.

“It proves that trade unions and employees can be purchased.” He termed the dharna not only anti-worker but also anti-national. The debate was coordinated by Press Club president C. Vimal Kumar and secretary Biju Pappachan welcomed the gathering.

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