From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 3- Use of technology to curb illegal mining
While laws and monitoring have been made stringent for the mining of major minerals consequent to the unearthing of several related scams across the country, the fact is that rampant and illegal mining of minor minerals continues unabated.
What are minor minerals?
- “Minor minerals” means building stones, gravel, ordinary clay, ordinary sand other than sand used for prescribed purposes, and any other mineral which the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare to be a minor mineral;
- Regulation exclusively by States: Unlike major minerals, the regulatory and administrative powers to frame rules, prescribe rates of royalty, mineral concessions, enforcement, etc. are entrusted exclusively to the State governments.
- The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notifications of 1994 and 2006 made environmental clearance compulsory for mining in areas more than or equal to five hectares.
- The EIA was amended in 2016 which made environmental clearance mandatory for mining in areas less than five hectares, including minor minerals.
- The amendment also provided for the setting up of a District Environment Impact Assessment Authority (EIAA) and a District Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC).
The problem of illegal mining of minor minerals
- The United Nations Environment Programme, in 2019, ranked India and China as the top two countries where illegal sand mining has led to sweeping environmental degradation.
- No comprehensive assessment: Despite this, there is no comprehensive assessment available to evaluate the scale of sand mining in India.
- Damage to the environment: Regional studies such as those by the Centre for Science and Environment of the Yamuna riverbed in Uttar Pradesh have observed that increasing demand for soil has severely affected soil formation and the soil holding ability of the land, leading to a loss in marine life, an increase in flood frequency, droughts, and also degradation of water quality.
- Loss to exchequer: It is not just damage to the environment. Illegal mining causes copious losses to the state exchequer.
- A State-wide review of the reasons behind non-compliance suggests a malfunction of governance due to weak institutions, a scarcity of state resources to ensure enforcement, poorly drafted regulatory provisions, inadequate monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, and excessive litigation that dampens state administrative capacity.
Way forward: Use of technology
- Use of satellite imagery: Satellite imagery can be used to monitor the volume of extraction and also check the mining process.
- Recently, the NGT directed some States to use satellite imagery to monitor the volume of sand extraction and transportation from the riverbeds.
- Drones, IoT and blockchain: Additionally, drones, the internet of things (IoT) and blockchain technology can be leveraged to monitor mechanisms by using Global Positioning System, radar and Radio Frequency (RF) Locator.
- State governments such as Gujarat and judicial directions such as the High Court of Madras have employed some of these technologies to check illegal sand mining.
Protecting minor minerals requires investment in production and consumption measurement and also monitoring and planning tools. To this end, technology has to be used to provide a sustainable solution.