New mining & mineral rules violate Paris Agreement ?

India is a signatory to the 2016 Paris agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) . As part of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), India has three quantitative climate change goals namely reduction in the emissions intensity of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 level, achieving about 40 % cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030 and creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

The Paris agreement with the UNFCCC on climate change mitigation, adaptation and finance was signed on 4th November 2016 at Le Bourget Paris. 190 countries are parties to this agreement. The United States had earlier withdrawn from the agreement in 2020 but after Joe Biden was elected US President, it again joined back officially on 19th February 2021. As per the official data provided by World Resources Institute (WRI) India’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions accounted for 6.5 % of total  global emissions in 2014.This made the country the fourth-largest carbon emitter after China, United States and the European Union (EU). To make significant reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 , India needs to work a lot. The state and UT Government’s too have a significant role in this regard so that international commitments are fulfilled.

No permission, no license ?

On 23rd February 2021  Government came up with a new set of rules known as Jammu & Kashmir Stone Crushers / Hot & Wet Mixing Plants Regulation Rules 2021. These rules are formulated under the section 15 and section 23 C of Mines and Minerals ( Development and Regulation) Act 1957. The new rules say that a stone crushing unit or a hot or wet-mix plant is not a mining unit but a processor of minerals obtained from a source with a valid mineral concession. Such units shall be regulated by laws, rules and other provisions applicable to industrial units. Instead of promoting industrial units with very less carbon emissions , the Government has given a free hand to pollution causing industries. Rule 3 (2) says that no permission or license is needed to set up new stone crushing factories and hot / wet mix plants in J&K . The Rule 3 (2) reads as :

“ No Permission or license would be needed by a stone crusher/ hot and wet mixing plant from the mining department except where it also engages in mining , which activity shall be regulated by laws and rules applicable to mining”

How many hot-wet mix plants ?

At a time when the Government of India plans to make all the highways concrete in the upcoming years, I am unable to understand why the J & K Government is facilitating to set up more Hot and Wet-mix plants? The demand for Bitumen is going to come down in the years to come, why do we need more bitumen making plants in J&K? Through this visionless policy the Government of J&K is actually doing a disservice to its people as the new units would prove to be disastrous for the environment. There will lead to increased carbon emissions in J&K in the years to come plus this will ultimately destroy the streams and rivers of J&K including the aquatic life in it.

Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari is the biggest proponent of concrete roads, but this seems to have no takers in J&K where bitumen roads get damaged every year after snowfall. The Government must instead put a moratorium of setting up new hot and wet-mix plants in J&. It seems builders and road developers from outside J&K are being invited to set up these pollution causing industries across J&K and Govt is facilitating all this by even bypassing the international commitments made on this behalf ?

State Minerals Foundation ?

On March 31st 2016 the then J&K Government had issued a notification vide SRO 105 wherein exhaustive regulations were made to regulate the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation Act) of 1957. After this Minor Minerals Exploitation and Processing Rules were formulated in 2017. Both of them have been repealed  now. Under SRO 105 of 2016 there was a provision of setting up  State and District Minerals Foundation  as per the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Mining, Government of India. The Foundation acts like a trust set up as a non-profit body, in those districts affected by the mining works. The foundation will work for the interest and benefit of persons and areas affected by mining related operations. It is funded through the contributions from miners. There is a provision of setting up of District Mineral Foundations (DMFs) in all districts of India affected by mining related operations. The new rules do not throw any light on all this ? Rule 73 of 2016 rules had a provision of creating a fund known as the Mines and Minerals Development, Restoration and Rehabilitation Fund (MMDRRF). This fund was to be established under public account in the state with the objectives of funding of the restoration or rehabilitation works in the sites affected by mining operations and provision of common facilities for the benefit of community in and around areas where mining activities are undertaken and much more. Nobody knows what happened to this fund and new rules are also mum on this.

Mining Rights to PRI’s

On July 18th 2020 the Administrative Council (AC), that met here under the chairmanship of the then Lieutenant Governor, G C Murmu, approved the amendment of J&K Minor Mineral Concession, Storage, Transportation of Minerals and Prevention of Illegal Mining Rules, 2016. Through that amendment the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI’s) were supposed to get mining permits on land up to 1 hectare (20 kanals), till 30th September, 2021. It also exempted PRIs from payment of advance royalty to the Geology and Mining Department before commencing mining. The decision was aimed at empowering PRIs to raise funds through mining surpluses and address shortage of key construction material in the local market, besides keeping a check on their prices. The new rules do not discuss the role of PRIs but instead directs stone crushing and hot and wet-mix plant owners to obtain material from valid Concessionaires ? Pertinently these concessionaries have been giving contracts to extract sand and gravel from our rivers and streams which is having a tremendous impact on the water ecosystem and aquatic life especially impacting Trout fish. On the other hand Govt claims to be giving more rights to Panchayats in J&K ? Recently Chairman Block Development Council (BDC) Bufliaz in Poonch Shafiq Mir raised this issue with Advisor to Governor Farooq Khan during a meeting at Surankote as the mining contract on a local river was given to some firm bypassing local Panchayats. Advisor assured to intervene but nothing has happened.

Conclusion

In ecologically fragile zones especially the cities and towns located near rivers , mountains and forests, the Govt needs to exhibit extra care and adopt policies that are friendly to local climatic conditions & ecology. Governments in Himalayan states and UT’s like Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have to be more cautious and adopt stringent climate action policies. The Government of Jammu & Kashmir instead of respecting India’s commitments on climate change is facilitating the creation of more pollution causing industrial units in J&K. This is an unfortunate and inappropriate decision.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2018 ordered  West Bengal government to ban the use of hot mix plants and burning fossil fuel for road construction in Kolkata and Howrah to curtail air pollution. It was expected from JK Govt to take proactive decisions on this but the way new rules have been formulated, it is really depressing.  By giving mining contracts in J&K to outside firms and concessionaires, Govt’s own commitment towards strengthening Panchayati Raj institutions too gets punctured as authorities have backtracked from their commitments in this regard….

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Founder & Chairman of J&K RTI Movement. He is Anant Fellow for Climate Action.