In a first of its kind, the University hosted a One Day Consultative Workshop on the Implementation of District Mineral Foundation Funds in Eastern India, on the 12th of November 2022. The event being a hybrid one saw various stakeholders put forth their views on a matter that despite being of grave importance, has not yet seen extensive academic discussion around it.
The event began with the inaugural speech by the Hon’ble Vice Chancellor of NUJS, Prof. Dr. Nirmal Kanti Chakrabarti. Sir addressed the session and emphasised on the work being done by the centre behind this event and the relevance of issues related to land acquisition, real estate, and mining laws. He also spoke of the need for awareness and that, discourse about the DMF funds, particularly about their usage in the Eastern states of India in academia by conducting studies, consulting with stakeholders, creating resource materials, and conducting capacity-building programs with industry professionals is the need of the hour.
Thereafter, the director of the program Dr. M.P. Chengappa addressed the event and opined that, these non-lapsable funds are a huge boon meant for the affected people and that the aim of the workshop was not just to gather concerned stakeholders together but also to brainstorm ideas that will encourage public participation in the fund utilization process. The participatory nature of the trust, Dr. Chengappa stated, is an important factor that directly affects the mining affected persons access to resources and infrastructure. The state of West Bengal, under the West Bengal District Mineral Foundation Rules, 2016 and has set up DMFs in 22 out of its 23 districts and is one of the major producers of coal and lignite in the country. Understanding the importance of a well-functioning DMF mechanism in eastern India, in general along with comparative study of the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and the state of West Bengal underlined the core aspect on this consultative workshop.
Next to address the session was the first Hon’ble Guest of honour, Shri Ravi Shankar Shukla, I.A.S., who is presently serving as the Deputy Commissioner of Dumka, Jharkhand. Shri Shukla, put forth several important points on the matter like; one of the most important objectives behind the DMF funds has been to provide relief to people from the backward communities and while mining is undeniably an important economic activity at the same time it is extremely important for one to remember that the social fabric needs to be preserved and it cannot be compromised.
Sir further proposed that, the very idea of providing aid to the people being affected by any sort of work such as mining can be described as the manifestation of social justice jurisprudence as envisaged under Article 14 and 39B of the Constitution of India. However, from the administrative point of view there are a few problem areas that must be identified and deliberated upon. First, lies the fact that there is no specific rule to identify “directly and indirectly affected areas” and a solution to this problem can be to give responsibility to the gram sabhas or local self-governing bodies to properly analyse and identify the needful areas.
However, the second problem is the definition of a “gram sabha” itself and its elections because the definition given under the Panchayats Extension to Schedule Areas (PESA) Act, 1996 and P.E.S.A. rules versus the reality of most gram sabhas is very different. These bodies need due elections in a systematic manner. Their election, he stated must be made mandatory and overseen by government appointed officials, which at present is not the case. Added to this lay the third and most troubling issue which is the lack of resources distribution and its proper utilization. According to him, districts and local bodies need to be equipped statutorily so that they can properly utilize the funds along with capacity building of district officials.
Next to address the gathering was the second Hon’ble Guest of honour, Shri Sanjay Kumar, who is presently posted as the Director (Personnel), Western Coalfields Ltd. Sir, in his address proposed a comparative analysis. He stated that just as the burning of parali (stubble) in Punjab or the Russia-Ukraine war has had a massive environmental impact even on areas that are not contained in their sovereign/state boundaries, a parallel can be drawn of the same with the problem at hand of mining and DMF funds. Mining impacts large areas, sometimes far beyond the demarcated district and hence a vision for holistic and integrated development of the areas where the mining is happening is needed. Creating a “mining affected area” as a unit of demarcation rather than marking the electoral districts with mines would perhaps aid the targeted utilisation of the funds in a more systematic manner.
The workshop then proceeded to its first technical session, which dealt with the topic, “Interplay Between D.M.F. And C.A.M.P.A. Funds: Promoting Ecological Balance in Mining Affected Areas.” The first speaker in this session was Shri Dhanraj H. Dhamdhere, I.F.S., currently posted as the D.F.O., Keonjhar, Orissa. Sir began his address by emphasizing that, the C.A.M.P.A. funds are primarily for the restoration of the ecology and re-plantation. C.A.M.P.A thus is a public account whereas D.M.F is limited only to mining affected areas and is people-specific. Governance of the C.A.M.P.A. funds additionally is done by a state authority whereas the subordinate state machinery is responsible for the D.M.F. fund and this creates an issue of permissions and authorization which makes the swift usage of the funds difficult. However, sir also added that this fund must not be seen as an endless source but rather must be preserved as “in a vault” to be used for several future generations, as mines often dry up and mining companies move to other mineral rich areas thus creating deserted ghost towns which then need sustenance.
The second speaker to address the session was Smt. Padma Mahanti, I.F.S. currently posted as D.I.G.F.(C) Integrated Regional Office, Bhubaneshwar, Orissa. Ma’am focused on the point of convergence of the two funds in question. According to her, the aim of the C.A.M.P.A funds is eco restoration which is achieved only if the apex species of the region comes back. This process must consider several factors like; the ground water level, preservation of the present wildlife, translocation of minerals, preservation of traditional knowledge etc. and thus a similar patten must be followed when we speak of the DMF funds as well. In their attempt to aid and develop infrastructure for the affected person the terrain, ecology and ground factors of the region must not be forgotten.
Following this, the second technical session of the workshop dealt with and analysed the implementation of DMF funds across various states in India. The session began with a presentation by Ms. Ashwini Ghayal Chitnis and Ms. Tanima Pal, on behalf of the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), who spoke about the need to approach DMF Funds from a civil society point of view. According to the speakers, it was imperative to understand why states who experience high mining activity are lagging in the Human Development Index (HDI) index. The speakers categorized DMF Funds as a tool to help these states with low HDI resulting from mining activities in addressing their short-term development goals. They laid emphasis on DMF funds being used on areas and communities directly affected by mining activities rather than on macro infrastructural activities.
They in their research have identified a major problem in the utilization of DMF funds to be the misallocation of these funds for infrastructure projects instead of focusing on the social development needed in mining affected areas. Through a data-based presentation, the speakers showed that mining related activities have led to various farming communities becoming less and less agriculturally productive. Their suggestions to rectify the sub-par allocation of funds is to take the Gram Sabha of various mining affected villages on board in order to focus on better allocation, along with awareness drives for mining affected communities as well as social audits to understand the tangible benefits of DMF Funds that are being allocated. Besides this, they also laid emphasis on transparency in project selection and fund allocation so that DMF Funds are not mixed with other funds and led away from those affected by mining activities.
The second speaker in this technical session was Ms Vagisha Nandan, who is the Jharkhand state coordinator for i-Forest. Ms Nandan focused on the DMF Fund and its allocation in Jharkhand. She pointed out that this fund was utilized in the best way possible primarily in the district of Dhanbad, as most of the fund was spent on drinking water and sanitation. According to her, the emphasis on drinking water and sanitation, while important are also shifting focus away from other important areas such as healthcare and education. She spoke about the importance of sustainability of projects funded by DMF Funds that are being implemented, and identified the key challenges in this area to be capacity of the DMF Fund and planning and capacity building of gram sabhas. Her suggestion was to hold workshops and awareness programs for the functionaries of local gram sabhas.
The third technical session saw two paper presentations by Ms. Ishita Kapoor who is a research analyst at the Centre for Social and Economic Progress (CSEP), New Delhi and Ms. Chinmayi Shalya who is currently working as a Senior Programme Associate at i-Forest. Both the speakers presented their detailed analysis of the usage and areas of usage of the D.M.F. funds across the country, however there was a consensus that despite the research it was all dependant on second hand data that was made available through the state and district websites. Unfortunately, the speakers also agreed that there was a serious lapse in the availability of recent data. Several states including almost 3 out if the 4 eastern states addressed in this conference had negligible data available about how much funds and where the funds have been spent.
The fourth technical session focused on “the D.M.F. funds and the rights of the project affected people.” The first speaker Dr. Stellina Jolly, speaking on the topic of “the Rights of the Project Affected Persons and Best Practices from An International Perspective”, explained the importance of rights of indigenous people and its conflict with mining of minerals over their lands, and threw light on the different international instruments for the protection of indigenous people right over natural resources.
She put emphasis on the consultation, participation, and free and prior and informed consent of indigenous people before their removal from lands for mining activities. She mentioned the importance of Aarhus Convention, which lays down procedure for information access, public participation, and access to justice to indigenous peoples. She again reiterated the importance of public participation and how many international agencies especially World Bank incorporated such provision in their working and pointed that since 2015 World Bank ensures that unless and until it is emergency, no funding is provided without public participation emphasizing on consultation and participation as one of the cores which must be taken in note since the inception of the project. Talking about DMF, she stated that such is used for restatement plan, with a condition that it does not impact the standard of the living adversely, thus policy measures to be framed with a focus on livelihood of impacted persons. Therefore, she argued that these principles of community engagement, public participation, and consultation to be incorporated in utilization of DMF and these principles are not only to be looked during the start of mining activities but also during while closure of mines as such closure also adversely impact the livelihood of the communities and it required to address their resettlement or rehabilitation.
There after the second speaker Mr. Tapojay Mukhrejee addressed the session, speaking on the issue of “National Resource Governance and Related Rights of Indigenous Population”. Sir shared his own experience of working in North Bengal where the indigenous population is adversely impacted due to mining operations. He emphasizes on the point that despite legal protection, the indigenous population are suffering due to lacklustre implementation of such laws and policy. He cited the example of Panchayats Extension to Schedule Areas (PESA) Act, 1996, as a law which is provided to protect indigenous communities from exploitation of their natural resources but not properly implemented in areas of West Bengal. He also pointed out that indigenous population of land is not only impacted only by mega project but also due to smaller projects. Thus, provided insights on the loss of the rights of the indigenous people and need for their protection.
The event then concluded with the presentation of the NUJS draft report, which dealt with the utilization and legal conformities surrounding the D.M.F. funds. The report although still in its draft form agreed with the issue of lack of data about the fund utilization as raised by several of the speakers. The program director Dr. M.P. Chengappa, gave the final address where he once again stressed upon the need for the judicious and sustainable usage of these funds as well as the need the fix the lacunae in the governing act of these vast funds.
The vote of thanks to the present addresses brought the event to a successful end, now with the possibility for more engaging discussion in it in the near future.