Prasanna Mishra

Minor minerals in Odisha have emerged as an important source of government revenue. These comprise mostly stone, sand, murrum, boulder and soil, and there are around 4000 such sources in the state. Despite severe slowdown of economy during the Covid pandemic, revenue from minor minerals in 2020-21 stood at Rs 962 crore, registering a growth of over 40% as compared to the previous year’s collection of Rs 680 crore.

Management of these natural resources in Odisha had been with the Revenue Department. Minor minerals have been treated as Sairat sources and, at the field level, have been managed by the Tehsildar. With exponential increase in demand for these resources in development activities like construction of buildings, roads and bridges, exploitation of these resources has leapfrogged posing challenges to the administrative infrastructure. Incidence of illegal exploitation has increased. Unscrupulous elements have taken law into their own hands and there are cases where officers discharging their duties have been victims of violence committed by such miscreants. It is public knowledge that huge pilferage goes on under political protection.

In view of the increasing inadequacies of the existing administrative arrangement, government decided to revamp the existing regulatory infrastructure so that the valuable natural resources are scientifically exploited. Besides meeting the economy’s need for these minor minerals, the revamping is expected to yield higher revenue for the government.

Accordingly, management of minor minerals in Odisha has been transferred from Revenue and Disaster Management Department to Steel and Mines Department. Definition of Sairat (a subject allocated to Revenue and Disaster Management Department) in Rules of Business has been modified excluding from it the minor minerals as defined under MMDR Act, 1957 to accommodate transfer of minor mineral management to Steel and Mines Department. Similarly, Directorate of Minor Minerals has been transferred from Revenue and DM Department to Steel and Mines Department. Mining Officer would be declared as Competent Authority and Deputy Director Mines, as Controlling Authority under OMMC Rules, 2016. For effective monitoring and supervision of sources, Directorate would be strengthened through establishment of PMU and Legal Cell. The Directorate would have financial power as Head of the Department. One Junior Mining Officer (JMO) will be posted to supervise 30 sources, one Assistant Mining Officer (AMO) will supervise work of two JMOs and one Mining Officer (MO) will be in position to supervise work of 2 AMOs. Each district will have at least one JMOs, one AMO and one MO with support staff and vehicles. They will work under 13 Deputy Director of Mining (DDM). Newly created posts of Revenue Inspector and Amin in 144 Tehsils in November 2019 would be transferred to Steel and Mines Department.

As per the new policy, government agencies would have priority for allocation of minor minerals sourced for timely completion of projects. Minor Minerals of high potential may, in consultation with Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC), be reserved for OMC.

While these steps seem to be in the right direction and need to be put into operation immediately, at this stage certain important issues need to be flagged for appropriate action. Headquarters of the JMO should be fixed close to the source for better supervision and control of the source. There is at present no arrangement for Internal Vigilance. In the past, senior officers of the Directorate of Mining have been criminally prosecuted for complicity/negligence in theft of minerals. Minor minerals too are equally, or, rather, more vulnerable to theft and since miscreants are extremely resourceful, it is most likely that theft would take place for Minor Minerals as well even under the revamped administrative arrangement. A robust system, therefore, needs to be in place to make the sector impregnable to pilferage. Territorial JMO, being on site and vulnerable to attacks by miscreants, should be free from enforcement job. He should process application, conduct auction, collect Royalty, and execute agreement with the lessee. Mining plan and agreement should also be under his purview. Vigilance wing should conduct surprise raids, catch stealing and impose fine.

There is now provision for fine up to Rs 5 lakh. It would be desirable to fix a minimum amount for fine. OMMC Rules 2004 is proposed to be amended. In this task of modification of existing Rules, Secretariat officers who do not have field knowledge may not do justice to the task. Therefore, outside expertise should be availed of for framing rules so that ways for handling field situations get properly reflected in the new Rules. While doing so, harmony between Environment and Mining Rules should be ensured. There is also a need for Green Tribunal in the state.

A large number of officials have been proposed for the new Directorate. Issue is when will they be recruited, and when will they get training? A very important and urgent task is to put the trained staff in place soon.

Another important issue relates to handing over and taking over of minor mineral sources. Such charge handing and taking over MUST NOT be a paper transaction. Authorised person of the Revenue Department must hand over assets to the competent Mining official on the field and clearly state how many and which are being worked legally and how many and which are not.

Restructuring of the minor mineral administrative infrastructure is surely welcome and it is good that the need for adequate number of technical officials has been acknowledged. Right now the situation remains confusing. Nothing much seems to have been done towards recruitment of officials. If precious time is lost in recruiting the staff, training them and deploying them in the field, huge damage would be done and large scale pilferage would continue unabated for a long time. Political forces which find ongoing large scale pilferage helpful would like the present arrangement to continue. That, however, would delay qualitative improvement of the administration of minor minerals.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at lonewalker.1942@gmail.com)

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