Legislation and Government Policy

National Mineral Policy 2019: Beyond Buzzwords

Prof. Dr. Roopa Madhav

The National Mineral Policy 2019 is a testament to the general approach of policymaking in India: Confused and Unimaginative.


The National Mineral Policy (NMP) 2019 is a mixed bag. It amplifies continuities from earlier policies (encourage large scale mining operations, measures to attract private sector participation, reduce state intervention) while making departures to co-opt the current buzzwords (‘sustainable development’, ‘ease of doing business’, ‘inter-generational equity’) all in one long paradoxical policy statement.

The new policy is in place as a result of a significant nudge by the Supreme Court, which in the Odisha illegal mining case,[1] observing the lack of an effective check on mining operations as being an outcome of weak policy guidance to the development of the sector. Noting that the NMP 2008 seems to be only on paper, the Supreme Court asked the Indian government to revisit the policy framework and “announce a fresh, more effective, meaningful and implementable policy”.[2] The NMP 2019 falls short of this stated mandate.

The issues identified by this policy for the mineral sector sit as two distinct and separate groupings. First, policy measures necessary for the development of the mining industry – these include increasing production so as to reduce trade deficits; attract private investments through incentives; streamlining, simplifying and speeding up statutory clearances for grant of mining lease; encourage mergers and acquisitions of mining entities; provide policy stability for large scale mining operations; and harmonise royalty, taxes and levies with other mining jurisdictions across the world.

Many clauses in the policy indicate an urgency to streamline the regulatory environment to allow for auction of mineral blocks with pre-embedded statutory clearances. In effect, the burden of obtaining a range of clearances is set to shift from the mining enterprise to the Government that seeks to auction the mineral blocks. In keeping with this objective, the policy recommends that mineral bearing areas be earmarked as “mining land” in the land records of the States. (Clause 3.1). Taking this further, in clause 6.10 it notes that “there shall be an endeavour to create Exclusive Mining Zone (EMZ) with prior in principle statutory clearances demarcated for the mineralised belt/zone to avoid conflict of interest and to curtail delay in commencement of mining operations.” Does the creation of Exclusive Mining Zones pre-empt questions of land acquisition and environmental clearances? Is the solution of an EMZ truly workable? Would it further aggravate concerns of environment and community rights?

Second, measures dealing with concerns of environment and communities – it seeks to ensure the welfare of mining-affected communities; emphasizing the implementation of all relevant laws to ensure rehabilitation and resettlement, introduces two interrelated concepts of inter-generational equity and sustainable mining. An estimated 60 per cent of the 50 mineral producing districts are declared to be in most backward district category[3] and this figure demonstrates the lack of benefits to mining districts despite schemes such as the District Mineral Funds. This gap between policy rhetoric and reality only widens with this new mineral policy.

The policy document makes all the right noises about sustainable mining (see Clause 6.11), and intergenerational equity (clause 10). But a cursory glance at the clauses dealing with the protection of environment (Clause 6.10), mine closures (clause 6.13), mineral security (clause 6.15) and most importantly, the clause on scientific methods of mining (6.3) indicate a lack of integration of ideas of sustainability and inter-generational equity into a holistic vision. The clauses on sustainable mining stand out as add-ons or boxes to be ticked in current policy language. As the ISID report notes, the “two main pre-conditions for achieving sustainability are the existence of good governance and self-regulating mining enterprises which are economically viable, financially profitable and technically efficient.”[4] Strengthening of governance institutions, capacity building of human resources and encouraging the viability of mining companies through sustainable practices do not find a mention in the policy document. In fact, it proposes an over-arching inter-ministerial body (clause 11) to institutionalise mechanisms of sustainable mining, failing at the first instance to set up a strong scientific body to carry out lifecycle analysis, socio-environmental impacts and long term sustainability concerns.

A significant part of the policy dwells on Research and Development (R&D). While safety, economy, speed and percentage of extraction from ore reserves are identified for further research, sustainability including restoration of ecology and phased closure of mines find scant mention. What the policy also fails to address are other persisting issues such as the poor availability of data on mineral resources, shortage of skilled manpower and corruption.[5] Only a passing mention is made of occupational health and safety concerns of mine workers. On similar lines, the vision statement in clause (1) arbitrarily notes that “mining contributes significantly to employment generation, thus, there shall be a keen focus on gender sensitivity in the mining sector at all level.” Gender does not find a mention in any of the subsequent policy clauses, showing up the empty policy rhetoric.

The two distinct problem sets are addressed awkwardly, juxtaposed against each other and never as a seamlessly integrated whole that must run together for the mining sector to thrive. More importantly, it highlights yet again, the difficulties of balancing economic concerns of a sector with its ecological, social and equity questions. In more ways than one, the document is a testament to policymaking in India – it attempts to hold opposing and at times, contradictory objectives, never once stopping to attempt a rigorous exercise of harmonising them to hammer out new approaches. Finally, it also demonstrates the silo approach to policymaking where the policymaker fails to account for the inter-relatedness of governance institutions such as mining, water resources, revenue and forests, to build effective governance synergies.

Prof. Dr. Roopa Madhav is an alumna of the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. She went on to obtain her LLM from New York University. She completed her PhD from School of Law, SOAS University of London. Her PhD thesis was Externalities, Rights and Mining: Past Traditions and Emerging Principles. Currently, she is a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

[1] Common Cause vs Union of India & Others, WP(C)) 114 of 2014)

[2] Srestha Banerjee, Will the new National Mineral Policy ensure responsible mining? 28 March 2019, Down to Earth, accessed at https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/mining/will-the-new-national-mineral-policy-ensure-responsible-mining–63741. Also see, Rahul Basu, What the National Mineral Policy 2019 does and doesn’t get right, Ecologise, 2nd April 2019, accessed at: https://www.ecologise.in/2019/04/02/india-minerals-are-a-shared-inheritance/

[3] National Mineral Policy 2008 – A Review, accessed at http://el.doccentre.info/eldoc1/e28_/Policy_Brief_NMP08.pdf.

[4] ISID Report, Sustainable Development: Emerging Issues in India’s Mineral Sector, Study sponsored by GOI, Planning Commission, 2012.

[5] Meenakshi Parida and S. Madheswaran, The Indian Mining Industry: Present Status, Challenges, and the Way Forward, ISEC Working Paper Series No. 430, 2018, accessed at http://www.isec.ac.in/WP%20430%20-%20Meenakshi%20Parida%20-%20final.pdf.

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