Will earmark regions out of bounds for mining

Seeking to adopt a holistic approach to the issue of mining and avoid a repeat of the Niyamgiri incident, the Mines Ministry will soon draw up a new policy that would clearly earmark regions that would be out of bounds for mining and those areas where projects could be taken up.

Official sources said the Ministry has prepared a draft policy and will seek the approval of the Cabinet once it is circulated and comments are received from various stakeholders. The policy will be based more or less on the exercise carried out by the Environment and Forests Ministry for the coal sector.

The Mines Ministry plans to divide the country’s mineral rich regions into ‘go’ and ‘no go’ areas. The nub of the exercise is to identify areas of dense forest cover or sensitive areas where mining will not be allowed.

The note will be put up for discussion and consideration of the Group of Ministers, headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, before it is sent to the Union Cabinet. The GoM includes Environment and Forests Minster Jairam Ramesh, Mines Minister B.K. Handique, and Union Minister of State for Coal Sriprakash Jaiswal.

The demarcation between mining and no-mining areas will cover metallic minerals such as iron ore, bauxite and zinc. Such a policy, officials said, will avert delay of projects and their getting stalled on environmental grounds. The Ministry will use data collected by the Indian Bureau of Mines, a body controlled the Ministry, which is involved in the development of mineral resources and protecting the environment in mining areas. The Bureau is currently engaged in developing overlay of mining areas overlapping with thick forest cover.

Mr. Handique stated in Parliament last week that his Ministry was working to finalise a new legislation to give more powers to the government to investigate complaints of illegal mining and create a National Mineral Regulatory Authority.

He said the government was also planning to set up special courts to deal with cases of illegal mining and take stringent steps, such as cancelling permission to miners. A plan to make tribals stakeholders in mining projects by giving them a share of profit was also being considered, he said.

Mr. Handique further stated that States were being nudged to have better regulation to check illegal mining.

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