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Business News/ Companies / Govt seeks more transparency, social sensitivity from miners

New Delhi: The government is nudging miners to involve the public, embrace civil society scrutiny and take due care of the environment as part of a sustainable development framework (SDF), two mines ministry officials said on condition of anonymity.

Two Tata Steel Ltd mines and one Hindustan Copper Ltd mine will kick off pilot SDF projects later this year.

Globally, many miners adopt SDF on a voluntary basis.

Sustainability consultancy Environmental Resources Management (ERM) had submitted a report on implementing SDF to the mines ministry on 30 November 2011, which had been gathering dust till the ministry recently told companies that it will begin implementation this fiscal year.

Mint has reviewed a copy of the ERM report which is available in the public domain.

Controversies have dogged mining in India, with investigations into illegal and excess mining ending in a 2011 Supreme Court ban on mining in states like Goa and Karnataka. The ban was later lifted with a ceiling on output.

Tata Steel’s Noamundi and Ankua iron ore mines in Jharkhand and Hindustan Copper’s Malanjkhand copper mine in Madhya Pradesh will implement the pilot projects. Based on their results, various states with mining operations will roll out SDF across the country.

The SDF blueprint calls for greater environmental and social sensitivities in lease decisions, managing impacts at the mine level through sound management systems, addressing land, resettlement and other aspects of social impact, community engagement, benefit sharing and contribution to socio-economic development. There are also strict rules for mine closure, post-closure assurance and reporting.

Queries emailed to spokerspersons of both Tata Steel and Hindustan Copper were unanswered, but a Tata Steel official, who did not want to be named, confirmed that the firm was asked to implement SDF at its two Jharkhand mines and was ready to go ahead. “We have already been following the best mining practices. So, we do not expect a major challenge in implementing the SDF," he said.

The consultancy report notes that regulators may verify SDF adoption when companies seek mining clearances, or lease renewals. It may also be used by regulators to evaluate the company’s commitment to achieving environmental and social goals in all related sectors.

“Some of the elements of the SDF are expected to be included in legislation and will require inter-departmental review of performance. It also envisages that civil society and local community will use the framework for greater accountability. Also, once the SDF becomes institutionalized, the ministry could consider setting up a separate body to monitor performance," the report adds.

The three main stakeholders of SDF are the government, non-government organizations and panchayats, and the mining companies. It involves public participation during exploration, mining and closure stages. It recommends some form of joint monitoring and auditing by affected communities and miners. It also calls for creating new institutions within the existing structure to specifically deal with SDF-related issues. At the state level, SDF reports of mining companies will be submitted to SDF cells, which will be referred to the Indian Bureau of mines and the ministry of environment and forests for their monitoring.

A mines ministry official said enforcing SDF could involve greater costs for firms. For example, mine closure norms could become stricter, he said.

Nik Senapati, managing director of Rio Tinto in India, said that though globally SDFs are voluntary, it is good to see that India is serious about enforcing these norms by planning a roll-out across the country.

The SDF allows for achieving sustainable development objectives without being too prescriptive and formulaic, the report notes.

The SDF also underlines the specific commitments spelt out in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill 2011 to contribute an amount equivalent to the royalties towards a District Mineral Foundation to provide income support to displaced communities and local development. Other options for benefit-sharing including employment, skill development and local infrastructure have also been mentioned.

The SDF promotes public participation to reduce mistrust between miners and local communities. NGOs have expressed the need to address the legacy issues and “historical hurt" in mining areas as a key first step towards more suitable mining.

Melanie Stutsel, a director with the Minerals Council of Australia and an expert in sustainable mining, said India should be wary of building a compliance mentality in firms, that they have to keep this benchmark and nothing more.

Stutsel said that India needs minimum regulatory standards that must be followed by all mines. Also, there must be a voluntary framework which essentially incentivises mining companies to work towards higher levels of performance outcome. A reporting framework towards achievement of these goals will help improve transparency, she added.

Nearly half of India’s total mineral production in value terms is contributed by Odisha, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

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Updated: 29 Jul 2014, 11:12 PM IST
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