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NEW DELHI: The chances of Parliament approving the two Bills proposing auction for allocation of coal and minerals like iron ore, copper and bauxite brightened on Wednesday as the respective Rajya Sabha select committees cleared them without any change. Apart from validating auction as the sole means of allocation of mineral blocks and thereby promising bolstered revenue streams to states, the two Bills also seek to reform the sectors with investor-friendly proposals.


While the coal Bill contains an enabling provision to usher in commercial mining by the private sector, the Bill pertaining to other minerals seeks to encourage exploration and production with 50-year lease terms and secure tenures, besides allowing transfer of leases and other rights.


If the Mines (Special Provision) Bill, 2015, and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2015, are not passed by Parliament before it is prorogued on Friday, the corresponding ordinances promulgated on January 12 will lapse, requiring the government to re-issue them. Both the Bills were passed by the Lok Sabha but were sent to select committees by the Upper House where the government lacks majority.


Auction of coal blocks got under way under the relevant ordinance, with the potential revenue to states over a 30-year period from the 32 blocks already auctioned estimated to be over R2.7 lakh crore. The Supreme Court had cancelled 204 blocks citing illegal and arbitrary allocation.


According to sources, the select panel on the MMDR Bill while approving it sans changes opined that the miners’ contribution to the district development fund, meant for rehabilitation, be enhanced from a third of the royalty as is currently stipulated. This, they said, could be done even through the subordinate legislation (the rules) and without changing the Act.


While the industry welcomed the coal Bill, its response to the MMDR Bill has been mixed. The Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI), for instance, contends the auction route might not be desirable in all cases as it could jack up costs.


It said the existing captive and non-captive mines should be given a 15-year transition period (the Bill allows a 15-year reprieve from re-auction for captive mines and says the existing non-captive mines would be put to auction after five years).


Private miners are also opposed to the proposal to give a special dispensation, circumventing auction, to PSUs when it comes to grant of mining rights. The other changes proposed in the MMDR Bill are, however, investor-friendly. For instance, it proposes transfer of mining leases and other rights (like prospecting and reconnaissance licences) between firms. Also, procedures for granting concessions are proposed to be expedited.


The select panel on MMDR Bill, headed by BJP MP Tarun Vijay, wanted the government to consider at a “later stage” issues like impact of mining activities on the environment, rampant illegal mining, lack of proper and scientific mine closure, land acquisition and resettlement and capturing windfall profits for the welfare of local and tribal communities. “The Committee, in view of limited ambit of amending Bill under its consideration, is of the opinion that these issues are of utmost significance that warrant serious consideration by the government… The (Mines) Ministry should consider these issues to be incorporated subsequently in the MMDR Act, 1957, at an appropriate stage,” it said.


The Congress and CPI(M) representatives in the select committee on the coal Bill wrote dissent notes.


The MMDR Bill, which seeks to replace the 57-year-old Act, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on February 24 and was passed by it on March 3.


Soon thereafter, BJP leader Jagadish Shettar and JDS leader H D Kumaraswamy also met the family and attacked the Chief Minister, accusing him of “shameful conduct” in the incident and questioning his sincerity in holding a fair probe and alleging “systematic attempt at a cover up”.


After this, the family announced that they would call off the protest as both opposition leaders told them that they would take their fight for justice to a logical conclusion.


Sticking to their guns, the Opposition continued their nightlong dharna in the Assembly for the second day today demanding a CBI probe but the government refused to yield, maintaining a CID investigation would do.


Siddaramaiah said outside the Assembly, “This is not a case to be handed over to CBI.”


In a surprise move just a day after handing over the case to CID, government today shifted Pronab Mohanty, Inspector General of Police, Criminal Investigation Department and brought in C H Pratap Reddy in his place. Mohanty has been made the IGP, Karnataka Lokayukta.


The action came in for attack from Kumaraswamy and Shettar who questioned it, raising doubts whether government was committed to holding a fair and impartial probe.


Siddaramaiah insisted that the CID would conduct an impartial and speedy inquiry to bring out the truth.


Ravi, Additional Commissioner of Commercial Taxes (Enforcement), was known for being gutsy and honest in taking on the land and sand mafia and tax evaders, with reports that he was facing threats.


“My son wouldn’t have committed suicide. He is not like that. He was strong hearted. My son was not a coward;I had not given birth to a son who could commit suicide,” Gowramma said.


“He was a son of this country. I have a lost son of this country….,” an inconsolable Gowramma said, as the government came in the line of fire from the Opposition parties and others for the suicide theory given by police.


“My younger brother died because of political pressure,” Ravi’s brother Ramesh said as he broke down.


There should be an impartial inquiry into the incident, the IAS officer’s father-in-law Hanumanthrayappa said.


Facing allegations that he had put pressure on Ravi in a land deal, Nayarayanaswamy, an MLA from Kolar district where the former had served as Deputy Commissioner, said he had not held out any threats to him.


“Is it possible to make any threatening calls to the Deputy Commissioner?. Would he have kept quiet if I had made any threatening call,” Narayanaswamy said.

(Source: The Financial Express, March 19, 2015)


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