Parliament passes bill to boost private investment in mining, Opposition protests

By: |
March 22, 2021 8:17 PM

Opposition parties demanded a select committee scrutiny of the bill, saying the government may face same backlash against this Bill as they are in the case of farm laws.

Mining BillThe Bill seeks to create employment opportunities and also allow private players in mining activities that would bring in modern technology.

Parliament Monday passed the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2021 which seeks to bring more reforms in mining sector for boosting private investment and creating more jobs.

However, opposition parties demanded a select committee scrutiny of the bill, saying the government may face same backlash against this Bill as they are in the case of farm laws.

Assuring members in Rajya Sabha, Mines Minister Pralhad Joshi said the “progressive” bill will not curb the powers of states while creating more jobs.

The Bill was passed by a voice vote in Rajya Sabha Monday. It was passed in Lok Sabha on March 19, 2021.

The Bill seeks to create employment opportunities and also allow private players in mining activities that would bring in modern technology.

Allaying concerns of the members about the Bill curtailing states’ powers, the minister told the Upper House, “I assure you that not a single iota of power of state will be snatched or taken away by this bill.”

On the demand of the Parliamentary standing committee scrutiny, he said, “Wide consultations on bill were held. The bill was circulated to states and 10,500 comments were received. As many as 10 association and six NGOs had recorded their comments.”

“A 143 mines have been given to states. Since 2015, these mines are with them. Neither those were allotted nor auctioned. Who suffered the loss? We are importing coal despite having the 4th largest resource of coal.”

The minister submitted before the House that the funds allocated for exploring mines remained largely under-utilised as they don’t have the capacity to explore.

Earlier while moving the bill for consideration, Joshi said its major objective is to generate employment in the sector and enhance the contribution of the mining sector in the total GDP of the country.

“Currently, the contribution of the mining sector, putting all together, is around 1.75 per cent and we want to take it to 2.5 per cent which is our commitment,” he added.

According to him, the mining sector contributes around 7 to 7.5 per cent of the GDP in countries like South Africa and Australia which are just as mineral-rich as India.

“Major reason why we are lacking in the mining sector is we do not have explored mines. Only 10 per cent of the Obvious Geological Potential (OGP) area we have explored so far and out of that, in only 5 per cent of OGP we are mining,” he said, adding that in countries such as Australia and South Africa 70 to 80 per cent of OGP is mined.

The reason is that only government agencies are involved in the process, he said.

“We want to bring private players into this because we have rich minerals like coal, gold, silver, but we are not being able to bring it out. That’s why we are bringing these changes and trying to redefine exploration,” he added.

The government is proposing to make National Mineral Exploration Trust (NMET) an autonomous and professional body, which would provide fund for exploration, Joshi added.

The minister informed the House that the bill was even supported by many non-BJP-ruled states as it is in national interest.

A total of “334 working merchant mines have expired in 2020 and out of that, 46 mines were working and were dispatching. Out of that 46, only 28 have been auctioned despite all clearance given by us and in between that there was a shortage of iron ore,” he said.

It would create a level-playing field and end the system of captive and non-captive mines, which was followed in India only and “created a lot of problems”. The government is also fixing the mechanism to calculate extra royalty into the schedule of the bill.

“Without any charges, we have allowed the transfer of mines. We want to bring a transparent system,” he said, adding it is a progressive bill and will bring a lot of change.

The bill to amend the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, would bring in mega reforms in the sector with resolution in legacy issues, thereby making a large number of mines available for auctions, he said.

Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh and Jairam Ramesh among other opposition members pressed the government to send the bill to a select committee for scrutiny.

Participating in the discussion on the bill, Ramesh said, “Eleven parties in House, have requested that the bill be referred to a select committee…consensus today is that the bill should go to select committee but government is unlikely to agree and respect this consensus…by passing this bill, today we are going against the general consensus.”

Singh also echoed similar views said, “Don’t treat this bill as you had done with the farm laws.”

M Thambidurai (AIADMK) said the minister should ensure that states’ rights are not taken away. He referred to the spectrum case where joint Parliamentary committee was constituted.

K Keshava Rao (TRS) said, “If you want to take people along then send this bill to a select committee. Don’t make the same mistake you have done with farm laws.”

V. Vijayasai Reddy (YSRCP), “This bill should not be passed in its present form…It is pro-private sector and anti-public sector.”
Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) said, “This bill will take towards privatisation of the entire mineral sector…Heaven would not fall if this bill would be passed in next session after the select committee scrutiny.”

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