Following a raging controversy on the alleged involvement of three Karnataka ministers in illegal mining, a Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will meet on Thursday to discuss various options allowing the centre to intervene in such issues.
The GoM, which includes 10 ministers, is scheduled to take up the law ministry’s recommendation to empower the centre to direct the states to check illegal mining.
The move follows the refusal of Karnataka government for a CBI probe into the allegations of illegal mining against its three ministers. The GoM will also try to resolve differences between the various ministries on the issues of illegal mining and ban on iron ore exports.
When the mining ministry came up with the draft of Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill, 2010, it was seen locking horns with the law and steel ministries.
The GoM is scheduled to take up the draft bill and the law ministry’s recommendations seeking amendments to it. The mining ministry has sought to replace the existing mining laws, which are five decades old.
The draft bill seeks to do away with the existing provisions, which requires the states to consult the centre before grant of licenses for mining operations. The law ministry has objected to this provision and has recommended powers for the Centre to intervene in the matter.
“Karnataka situtation has shown that the centre needs powers to give specific directions to states in cases of threat to national security, arising out of apprehensions that money earned from illegal mining could be used for laundering and funding insurgency,” said a senior ministry official. In 2009 alone, more than 42,000 cases of illegal mining were registered in 11 states, the official said.
Another issue before the GoM are the differences between the mining and steel ministries on the export of iron ore.
Steel ministry has sought a ban on the export, but the mining ministry has been opposing the propsal, saying companies engaged in the business would go bankrupt if exports were disallowed. Interestingly, the law ministry has favoured the steel ministry’s view, arguing that natural resources should be protected.
The GoM will also have to address the environment ministry’s demand of imposing an environment cess on each mining project. It also wants tribals to get annual share of 26 percent from the revenue earned by mining companies running in their areas. The ministry wants a new provision be added in the draft bill to ensure that forests damaged because of mining would be restored.