Missing in the panel set up to frame India’s new mineral policy: Adivasis, ecologists, civil society

Does the KR Rao Committee ring a bell?

It was set up last month by the Union Ministry of Mines after the Supreme Court’s tough judgement on illegal iron ore mining in Odisha. Disposing of a petition filed by the non-profit Common Cause, Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta not only ordered the Union government to recover the full value of iron ore mined illegally by the mining lease owners, it also asked it to review India’s mining regulations.

These regulations have failed to arrest illegal mining in the country as is evident in several cases across India – for instance in Karnataka and Odisha, as well as Goa, where the Supreme Court imposed a ban on iron ore mining in 2012, and Tamil Nadu, which has seen rampant illegal sand mining for several years. They have also failed to mitigate the social and environmental consequences of mining. Indeed, there are glaring economic inequalities in India’s mineral-rich districts. Communities living close to the mineral reserves teeter at the edge of destitution and battle environmental pollution even as a handful of politically-connected people amass extraordinary riches.

The Supreme Court therefore directed the Centre to set up an expert committee, chaired by a retired judge, to identify the regulatory lapses that allowed illegal mining. It also directed the Union government to review the National Mineral Policy, 2008, in order to bring in greater transparency, environmental protection and more social and economic growth.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Mines set up the KR Rao Committee on August 14. The committee is expected to submit its report on October 31. Its composition, however, raises questions on whether India’s mining sector will see a fundamental overhaul or more of the same.

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The Dongria Kondhs of Odisha now face a more formidable enemy than Vedanta

Two years ago, when the tribal people of Odisha’s thickly forested Niyamgiri hills unanimously rejected the plans of the London-based conglomerate Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite in their lands, it appeared that a decade-long struggle to protect the hills and forests – and the tribal way of life – had finally succeeded.

But that might have been a case of premature celebration. Fear and anger are again stalking the hills.

Security camps of the Central Reserve Police Force have been mushrooming in this part of Kalahandi district. From one camp established five years ago, there are now three on the periphery of Niyamgiri. More are expected to come up.

Government officials cite rising Naxal activity as the reason for the security buildup. But among the tribal Kondhs, the increased paramilitary presence is leading to fears that the government is trying to force them off their land.

the reconfiguration of the nicobars

revisiting the overloaded archipelago

at the mayabunder jetty. (the photo sums up my life with almost literal exactness. a beautiful planet, anthropogenic activity, dead biodiversity – that is a dead sea krait at the bottom of the photo – and me watching biodiversity haemmorrage away)

for a while now, i have been trying to go on a cycle ride at the end of every year — have succeeded three out of four years. in 2014, biologist vidya athreya and i went to the andamans. and i came back and wrote this story about cycling up the islands.

The friend is a biologist curious to see what the forests in this archipelago are like — the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were connected to what is now Indonesia before rising sea levels cut them off. As such, not only are life forms on the isles closer in origin to Indonesian than Indian ones, their geographic isolation has resulted in the creation of several species unique to them. As for me, I am looking to get into shape. This is also my second trip to the islands — the first was a reporting assignment in 2004 just before the tsunami. The ride is a chance to see how the patterns I spotted then – water shortages, over-population, and decimation of the indigenous people – have unfolded since.

on the whole, not much has changed on how we manage the islands. see this 2004 story. also see this article, by biologist tr shankar raman, about travelling along the ATR.
ps: the link is to a pdf of the page. my colleagues at et — anirban, manoj, kamal, sunil and amrit — have consistently designed stunning pages for my full page stories. this is just the latest in a long chain. if you want the online version of the article, go here.

is the forest rights act being implemented well? (the answer is ‘no’)

Last month, union tribal Minister Jual Oram told the Lok Sabha that India is making “satisfactory progress” implementing the “Forest Rights Act” (FRA). However, a closer look at the numbers he submitted in the house indicates otherwise.
my story on how the government’s claims about “satisfactory” implementation of the forest rights act are garbage. what is underway is a game with statistics.

in which we argue the critics are missing the real picture on NOTA

The popular perception is that the ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) option – a measure of rejection of all candidates – did not make a difference in the recent assembly elections, being as low as 0.6% in Delhi. But the NOTA choice came third in terms of votes polled in as many as 148 of the 520 constituencies in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, suggesting widespread discontent with governance deep inside the country. Of these 148 constituencies, 63 are in MP, 51 in Rajasthan and 34 in Chhattisgarh. Most of these constituencies fall in Maoist-affected, tribal or rural areas. Take Bijapur, in Naxal-affected southern Chhattisgarh, where over 10.1% of voters chose the NOTA option.

the recent assembly polls were the first ones where voters had the option of rejecting all candidates. in the more marginalised parts of the country, a lot of voters have done so. their gesture has india’s experts struggling. a small story by my friend avinash (celestine) and me.

The Act That Disagreed With Its Preamble

I have waited the longest time to upload this. I had spent all of 2009 studying the drafting of the “Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. I finished writing it. Sent the paper to a journal called Conservation And Society. Got busy with my job at the Economic Times. And when the reviewers’ comments came, I was too neck deep in journalism to be able to rework the paper. Well, a year and a half after their feedback, I finally finished reworking it.

But, sigh, I am still to send it to the journal. In the meantime, here is the abstract. This, from what I know, is one of the few accounts of the pre-legislative process in India, of how laws evolve from a “political promise” into a “legal reality”.

In 2006, India passed an Act recognising hitherto unrecognised rights of tribals and other forest-dwellers over the forests that sustain them. However, for all its merits, this Act, ‘The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006’ is a puzzling document. It is ambiguous in parts. There are differences between its text and its preamble. It leaves critical questions on operationalisation unanswered. All this has marred the Act’s implementation. To explain how contradictions and ambiguities entered the text of what should have been a precise legal document, this paper reconstructs the drafting process through which the Act took shape. Briefly, it argues that every actor who participated in the drafting of the “Forest Rights Act” the people movements, the Left, the Tribal Ministry, the Environment Ministry, the wildlifers had a different conception of the problem the Bill had to resolve and, consequently, the provisions it needed to contain. There were few attempts to harmonise these divergent views. The final Act emerged from a law-making process where no actor influenced more than a few provisions. In the process, the meaning of the final text became an incidental outcome a combination of parts that do not fit together very well.