Rejoinder to ‘Nagaland towards a climate smart future’

Wanthang Rengma

Director, Directorate of Geology & Mining

1) This refers to the news caption, “Nagaland towards a Climate Smart Future” by Sopel Joel published in Morung Express para 3 & 4 dated 28th December, 2017 on the remark made by an Officer of the Indian Forest Service (IFS) on the tussle between Forest Department and the Geology & Mining Department over the right to levy tax (royalty) on ‘minor minerals’. Wherein it was stated that quoted….”the State Government ruled in favour of the Geology & Mining Department and with that, the little restrictions imposed by the Forest Department to prevent random and excess exploitation of resources was tossed out of the window, according to the IFS Officer”… unquoted.

 

2) In this regard, it may be stated that Forest Department is collecting royalty on ‘minor minerals’ in the State since the Statehood till date, on the pretext that minerals are listed as forest products under the definition of the Nagaland Forest Act, 1968. However, there was no regulatory system to regulate and control mining activities especially stone quarries and river bed mining by the Forest Department. Hence, random and unscientific mining of minor minerals especially river bed mining took place during the last 5(five) decades which is causing land erosion and environmental damages. It is universal truth that minerals are not forest product. However, before the Geology & Mining Department came into being in the State, minerals were being controlled by Forest Department.

 

3) The Forest Department keep insisting that minerals, coal, oil etc. is a forest produce. When the Nagaland Coal Policy and Rules 2006 was implemented in the State, the same issue was raised by the Forest Department and in the joint meeting of the two departments dated 6th November 2006, it was decided that coal being one of the minerals is the subject matter of the Department of Geology & Mining and accordingly coal was handed over to the Department of Geology & Mining, wherein the Department of Forest was directed to take steps to move for amendment of the Nagaland Forest Act, 1968 and delete the relevant sections under which coal, minerals, oil etc. were listed as Forest Produce. The amendment was supposed to be completed by November 2006 itself. However, surprisingly even after a gap of 11 (eleven) years, the very provision of the NFA 1968 still exist.

 

4) The Forest Department never take any steps to move for amendment of the Nagaland Forest Act 1968 (NFA 1968). Time and again, when the State Government has decided to operationalized the Nagaland Minor Mineral Concession Rules 2004, the Forest Department brought out the same issue reiterating their stand that minerals are listed as Forest Produce in the Nagaland Forest Act, 1968 and that Forest should continue to collect royalty on minerals till such time the NFA 1968 is amended (which never happened). At the same time, they argue that the NFA 1968 has derived its essence from the Indian Forest Act 1927 (IFA 1927), and it has the assent of the President of India, therefore, amendment to NFA 1968 will require prior concurrence of the Government of India which is quite contrary to the provisions of Article 371 A. The definition of Forest produce falls under “land and its resources” defined under the NOTLAR Act, 1990, which was framed under the special provisions of Article 371 A. Therefore, Forest Department enforcing the IFA 1927 or taking concurrence of the Central Government for amendment of the NFA 1968 infringes Article 371 A and will weaken the stand and rights of the Nagas over “land and its resources”, including the ongoing legal hurdle on petroleum and natural gas with the Central Government. It may also be clarified that the Indian Forest Act 1927 was framed during the pre-independent period. However, after the independence of India, the IFA 1927 was amended and minerals and mining sector were brought under the National Principle Act, The Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 (MMDR Act, 1957). Therefore, question of taking Centre concurrence for amendment of NFA 1968 does not arise. The Forest Department should not confuse the people, with Central Acts & Rules, but should start thinking to frame their Act and Rules under Article 371 A and the State own legal framework i.e. the Nagaland (Ownership & Transfer of Land and its Resources) Act 1990.

 

5) The State of Nagaland enjoys a special provision of Article 371 A, of the Indian Constitution which empowered the Nagas to enact its own laws over ownership of land and its resources. Accordingly, the Nagaland (Ownership and Transfer of Land and its Resources) Act, 1990 (NOTLAR Act, 1990) was enacted and passed in the Nagaland Legislative Assembly (NLA) and in order to regulate, control and administer the minor minerals, the Nagaland Minor Mineral Concession Rules 2004 was framed and notified under Section 17 of the NOTLAR Act, 1990. Thus, when the NMMCR 2004 was implemented in the State, there were provisions for preparation of mining plan, Environmental Management Plan, Mines Closure Plan, by the experts for strict implementation of the Licensees/permit holders. Those provisions in the rules are for mitigation measures of environment such as water, air, noise, land and ecological pollution. However, the NMMCR 2004 is being operationalized in the State inspite of continued resistance from the Forest Department.

 

6) It may be pertinent to maintain here that random stone quarrying activities, constructions etc. being carried out along the National Highways NH29 and NH2 has caused maximum damage to roads and bridges and is one of the factors contributing landslides along the Highways. The study reveals that unscientific method of river bed mining such as sand and gravel mining along the Chathe river and Dhansiri river has caused the recent collapse of bridge over Chathe river near CIHSR (Referral Hospital) and damage the bridge over Dhansiri river near Kuda-B Khel, Nagarjan and Balijan bridge on Niuland road. Due to the collapse of these bridges, the people continue to face miserable hardship as no immediate measure could be taken to restore the connectivity. Therefore, it was under the Forest Department that random and excess exploitation of resources has since taken place damaging even roads and bridges and the Department of Geology & Mining are being blamed even before the matter is handed over to them to enforce the aforesaid State legal framework. Such immature comments misguiding the people on the part of Sr. IFS Officer is uncalled for.

 

7) The decision of the Government to handover the ‘Minor Minerals’ including boulders, sand, gravels etc. to the rightful Department of Geology & Mining as per the Rules of Executive Business in the joint meeting of the Departments of Geology & Mining and Forest dated 28.12.17 is a wise decision and we welcome it. The Department of Geology & Mining has just taken over the said minerals from the Forest Department. However, the Forest Department is still collecting royalty from boulders, sand and gravel etc. in the entire State and is reluctant to hand over to the Department of Geology & Mining. Immediately after the decision to handover minor minerals to the Department of Geology & Mining, most of the DFOs have issued quarry permits to contractors and have collected advance royalty upto 2018 & 2020 and the request to handover those records to the Department of Geology & Mining, on or before 20th December, 2017 has not yielded any result. Collection of royalty by the Forest Department after withdrawal of authority from them is illegal and the State Government should immediately take appropriate action to contain such illegal collection of tax.

 

8) It may be pertinent to state here that effective implementation of the NMMCR, 2004 will bring out the poorly structured governance mechanism to regulate river bed mining and stone quarries in the State. However, multiple authorities specially Forest, Administration, Municipal, Police etc. grants licenses and issues challan causing confusions and ineffectiveness in controlling the illegal mining in absence of proper regulatory system to regulate and monitor in a coordinated manner. This fragmented dealing of minor minerals under various departments has largely contributed to haphazard and unscientific mining in State. This also has led to loss of huge revenue to the State exchequer and damaging roads and bridges.

 

9) In view of the above stated reasons, handing over of minor minerals to the Department would eventually lead to prevention of such man-made disasters and will generate substantial revenue to the State exchequer and create more employment opportunities to the educated unemployed youths in both private and Government sectors. Therefore, question of random and excessive exploitation of resources tossed out of the window according to the remark of the IFS Officer holds no water. The mitigation measures for environment and scientific mining of Minor Minerals for socio-economic development of the people will always go hand in hand under effective implementation of the Nagaland Minor Mineral Concession Rules 2004. The Forest Department is therefore, once again requested to honour the decision taken on the 28th October, 2017 meeting and immediately stop collection of royalty from minor minerals, especially stone, boulders, sand, gravels etc. and cooperate with the Department of Geology & Mining to streamline the implementation of the NMMCR 2004 in the interest of public service.

 

Writer responds

The writer would like to place on record that the basic idea behind the write-up was to highlight the issue of climate change vis-à-vis development and livelihood and not to support or malign any department or individual. The write-up is intended to generate more discourse in public domain which will help find ways to combat and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Sopei Joel