New Delhi: The mines ministry plans to revamp the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM), which approves mining proposals and monitors operations, after exposes on illegal mining cut production, closed companies, and left thousands of workers jobless.
The revamp will include increasing the bureau’s staff, providing better technology for its operations, and entrusting it with new tasks, such as offshoring mining and sustainable development of local communities.
“We are in the final stages of preparing a plan. This has to be approved by several ministries such as finance, environment and forests, and planning,” said a mining ministry official. “After that, it will go to the cabinet. It could take a few months.”
A file photo of mines where mining is in progress
A second official said filling vacant positions takes time. “For example, last year the cabinet approved filling of 89 positions at IBM. This will be completed now.”
Both officials declined to be identified.
The growth of environmental awareness and exposes by activists in the last two years have shown that companies mined more than they were permitted to and did not take care of environmental norms, as demand for key commodities such as iron ore rose.
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The Supreme Court banned mining by private owners in Karnataka in August and September, while Goa’s miners are bracing for justice M.B. Shah’s report on illegal mining that could place curbs on their trade.
Orissa, the country’s largest iron ore producer, has been acting against miners, transporters and stockists in a clean-up drive for the last two years that has reduced supplies.
The ministry officials did not say how many new positions will be created at the Indian Bureau of Mines. The second official said it could be done on the lines of the Geological Survey of India, where 900 additional positions have been created, equivalent to 8.3% of its existing staff.
The bureau of mines has a staff of nearly 1,600 now.
The revamp plan comes ahead of a new mining law that aims to boost the production of minerals by expediting clearances and enforcing tighter regulatory norms.
“The whole idea is to make IBM ready for the challenges when the new mining Bill comes into place,” the first official said. “There is one physical inspection of a mine in one year. This needs to be more frequent.”
State governments, too, need to increase staff to regulate mines, the officials said.
“The states save on costs. At least two out of three vacancies that happen due to superannuation get done away with and this has been happening for years,” the first official said. “The vacancies across all states could run into hundreds.”
Activists said government departments do not hire people in line with the growth of the mining sector. “If they could not hire more people to check on the mines, why did they give more leases?” asked Rames Gauns, an activist at Bicholim in Goa. “For other sectors, they have grown in the government as well. Why is mining so stagnant?”