Wherever feasible, converting illegal mines to legitimate ones after determining the entrepreneur's worth will result in better competitiveness, rehabilitation and revenues to the exchequer, says RK Sharma.Obtaining mining approval takes considerable time mainly at the state level.Grant of prospecting licences or the mining leases takes months and, sometimes, years. The main problem that arises is in obtaining the approval under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The states take years to send grant and renewal proposals to the central government for diversion of forest land for mining under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. The repercussion of this is a flourishing illegal mining activity.Minerals determine illegal miningUnder Section 3(e) of the MMDR Act, 1957, mining/quarry leases for minor minerals are granted by state Governments. (The following have been declared as 'minor' minerals by the Central Government in exercise of powers conferred under Section 3(e) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 vide Notification No. GSR-786(F) dated 23 August 1989: boulder, shingle, chalcedony or impure quartz pebbles used for ball mill purposes or filling for bore wells or for decorative purposes in buildings, limeshell, kankar and limestone when used in kilns for manufacture of lime used as building material, murrum, brick earth, fuller's earth, bentonite, road metal, reh-matti, slate, and shale when used for building material.)These minerals are consumed mostly in the nearby areas. Except in the case of granite and marble for which the central government has promulgated Granite Conservation and Development (Amendment) Rules, 2002 and Marble Development and Conservation Rules, 2002, quarry leases in the case of others are granted sometimes even for as smaller a area as 25 x 25 m and in most of the cases limited to one hectare. Many times areas are auctioned. In such cases, it results in haphazard and indiscriminate mining.If it becomes known that minerals are available in an area and the lease is not granted to a genuine mineowner, illegal mining may crop up. In fact we find that there is rampant illegal mining in the case of minor minerals and in some major minerals in connivance with the authorities concerned. As mentioned earlier, illegal mining takes place mostly in case of minerals that have a local market and are consumed locally. We assume that 50 per cent of the total production of minor minerals and about 30 percent of major minerals including coal come through illegal mining. This has given a bad name to the organised mining industry, which is doing a commendable job in systematic mining as well as in safeguarding and regeneration of the environment and forests. Factors for illegal miningThe following reasons may be attributed for illegal mining:•Existence of a deposit of a mineral and non-grant of the mining/quarry leases, particularly in the case of minor minerals.•Stoppage of a mine either after near-exhaustion of the deposit or refusal to grant renewal by the state government.•Remote areas where the government agencies seldom go.•Denial of permission to work in forest area at the time of renewal or an arbitrary reduction of the mining lease area in forest land. Consequently, many of the broken-up areas remain unworked and thus attract illegal mining. This is most evident from the extensive illegal mining going on all over the country. A few cases may be mentioned below:1.Jafarabad district of Gujarat where the renewal of limestone mine was denied to a company (Narmada Cement Company Ltd) under Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification because the operations were within 500 m of high tide. Illegal mining is rampant on sea shores with large scale movement of limestone bricks, with full knowledge of state authorities.2.Asbestos mines, which have been closed in Cudappah District of Andhra Pradesh because of Central government's orders banning asbestos mining, are still illegally operational.3.Illegal mining of sand stone is being carried out in Shivpuri district in Madhya Pradesh. This has been reported and verified after an enquiry carried out by MK Sharma, former Director General, Forests, Ministry of Environment and Forests, on the direction of the Supreme Court.4.Illegal mining is being done in the Dholpur area, Kota and Alampur villages in Rajasthan.5.There is rampant illegal mining of minerals such as soapstone and other industrial minerals in Dehradun region of Uttaranchal even after the closure of mines by Supreme Court. No safeguards are available for the safety of the workers engaged therein and also there is no concern for the environment and forestry.6.Despite Supreme Court's directions to ban stone mining in the hilly Aravalli areas of Haryana and Rajasthan, illegal mining is going on at night under gas lights.•State government Public Sector Units (PSUs) have been granted extensive areas for mining leases, but do not have surface rights (under which a lessee is required to obtain from the owner/occupier of the land) for the whole area. Their operations are therefore limited to much smaller areas. Since it is known that the balance area contains mineral deposits, illegal mining starts with the connivance of the state authorities.•Declaring an operating mining lease area, as in the case of Kudremukh and Goa as sanctuaries, leads to the closure of mining activity. Since the mine face is already open, the illegal mining flourishes. Mining has been the main life line in such areas and if an attempt is made to close it, naxalite activities will start as it happened in the case of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, etc. •We apprehend this may also happen in the case of Kudremukh Iron Ore Co Ltd (KIOCL) which the Supreme Court has directed to close down by December 2005.•If people are aware that mineral is available in an area and demand exists, there will be illegal mining. This is particularly so because of large scale unemployment in the interior, backward and tribal areas where these minerals are located. The people engaged in these illegal operations have no safeguards about safety and are exposed to all sorts of health hazards.•The rampant illegal mining of iron ore on the Andhra Pradesh-Karnataka border is now exposed for the entire nation to see. As the Lokayukta Report alleges, the Reddy brothers, ministers in Karnataka Government, are involved. They are also alleged to be business partners of people in power in Andhra Pradesh. Until the CBI arrested the ministers recently, the state governments had done precious little to curb the illegal activity.While mining units operating legally are subject to various levies such as royalty, welfare cess, Net Present Value (NPV), compensatory afforestation (CA) charges and various other labour and environmental costs as well as corporate taxes, etc, the people who are doing illegal mining are not paying any of the these levies/taxes. Thereore, besides the loss to the national and state exchequers, it also leads to unhealthy market competition where the organised mining sector is in no position to compete with the products of illegal mining.RepercussionsIIIegal mining results in:•unscientific mining.•absence of environment and ecological safeguards.•illegal felling of trees and destruction or forest cover.•exploitation of workers and absence of safety to their health and other welfare measures.•loss of revenue to state and central governments. Only illegal persons gain without any tax liability.•if illegal mining is checked, it may lead to all-round economic benefits and check Naxalite activities.•leads to all-round benefits to the illegal miners without any corresponding obligations, legal or otherwise.In short, illegal mining destroys the mineral deposits, leads to haphazard mining, destroys environment and forests and promotes naxalite activities. It also destroys civic fabric of the society and creates frustration among the people by promoting mafia elements in and around these areas. It is therefore necessary to curb illegal mining activities by bringing them into the main stream without displacing labours engaged therein.SolutionIt is obvious that large scale illegal mining can flourish only with the active connivance of state authorities. The large scale unemployment and lack of avenues sometimes force people to resort to illegal mining when they are aware that there are minerals available in an area and the states do not grant mining/quarry leases to genuine entrepreneurs having sound financial capabilities and technical expertise.The illegal mining can be stopped if the workers working in these mines are not displaced but only the persons who are carrying out these operations are removed from the scene. However, if the persons who are operating the mines illegally are willing to fall in line with the mainstream and enter into collaborative venture with those who have experience and are technically and financially sound, these may also be allowed to continue with proper monitoring by central and/or state governments.This can be done by the state governments by bringing appropriate statutes whereby some mechanism is evolved giving these leases legality to the professionally qualified and financially sound entrepreneurs with the stipulation that they will keep the labour employed therein and look after their safety and welfare aspects.Most of the mineral-bearing areas are not given for mining because of the problems of clearance under Forest (Conservation) Act.The above scheme will succeed only if there is strict monitoring from the side of the Central and State Conservation) Act or Environment (Protection) Act. Unless the area is ecologically fragile, the State governments should carry out regional environmental surveys and take clearance under Forest (Conservation) Act so that these can be given easily to the technically qualified and financially sound people which will keep the labour engaged authorities.