ambiguity and loopholes
While the Rules mention that the
“proceeds of the fund shall be utilized only for direct benefit of the persons
living in or for physical works within the areas” affected by mining operations
– Rule11 (2) –exceptions have been made which can essentially ‘justify’ the use
of such funds for various other purposes.
Two points are particularly
- The Rules say that up to 40 per
cent of the funds may be utilised for “development of common infrastructure at
the block or district level institutions” to “directly or indirectly” benefit
the persons living in the mining-affected areas;
- The Board may take up projects for
development of common infrastructure like construction of roads, bridges, etc.
which are of importance to the district in any excess amount from the 40 per
cent limit on a case-to-case basis.
“Both these exceptions can lead to a
huge misuse of funds,” says Bhushan adding, “in a particular mining district
like Sundergarh, a district-level institution will include departments or
agencies related to education, health, social welfare, rural development, water
resources, agriculture, etc. All of these departments or agencies in some ways
have to do with the development of such areas. Therefore, one can essentially
use DMF money to build or upgrade a building of such departments, or use it for
procurement of other such materials on the pretext of ‘development of
infrastructure’ for people’s good.”
“Moreover, DMF money should not be
used for construction of roads, bridges and similar projects,” Bhushan says.
Such big-ticket infrastructure projects should actually be taken care of by
contribution from the state coffer that a district/block/village should normally
receive. If the DMF fund is to be utilised for such needs, it should be used as
an “add on” and, for such developmental purposes, there should be transparent
mechanisms in place to transfer DMF funds to other concerned government
departments that can implement and maintain these assets.
The various provisions about
‘investments,’ as loosely prescribed in DMF Rules, also creates scope for misuse
of these funds causing delay or stop the benefit flow for the right cause,
“Instead of creating the ambiguities
and loopholes, what the Odisha Government should have done was identify
activities/purposes clearly that would clearly benefit the people and areas
affected by mining and which are verifiable. The respective percentage of funds
for all such purposes must have also been clearly earmarked,” says Bhushan.
What’s additionally problematic is
that the Rules have listed activities to be undertaken using DMF money which
actually fall under the ambit of other schemes instituted by the Government.
This is particularly the case with suggesting that DMF money can be used for
afforestation purposes, as mentioned in Rule 10(c).
“It is completely unacceptable that
DMF money should be used for afforestation. We already have the Compensatory
Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) in place for such a
purpose,” says Ajay Saxena, CSE Programme Manager. The State Government should
make efforts to implement CAMPA in a transparent manner and use the money
effectively, which is now a matter of huge controversy as revealed by the CAG
Report on CAMPA in 2013, Saxena adds.
While the Rules to a certain extent
outline how beneficiaries and developmental schemes/works will be identified in
Scheduled Areas in Odisha, how this would happen for non-scheduled areas is
completely unclear. “This is important given the fact that a significant amount
of mining happens outside scheduled areas in Odisha,” CSE says.
Even in the case of Scheduled Areas,
the way development plans are conceptualized and implemented is problematic. As
suggested, the planning will be done by the members of the DMF, essentially
bureaucrats, and the Gram Sabhas will only be consulted during approval.
“This makes it a top-down approach,
which goes against the spirit of DMF and will lead to inappropriate use of DMF
funds,” says Bhushan adding, “There is no doubt about the under-development and
abject poverty that India’s mining districts suffer from.”
“As the Prime Minister observed, ‘the
people who sweat to make our country rich’ are left under-developed and poor,”
Bhushan says recalling PM Modi’s Independence Day address to the nation, “The
picture is probably the starkest in Odisha which where nearly 40 per cent of the
population lives below the poverty line. The situation is worse for tribals as
more than 75 per cent of the rural tribal population lives below the poverty
line. The Planning Commission has identified 27 districts in the state as
Saying that the DMF was an
opportunity to improve the situation, Bhushan sees a feeble chance of any
positive improvement with the Rules in their present form.