Mining activities by SAIL, Tata Steel, Hindalco, Hindustan Copper and Uranium Corporation in Jharkhand have been almost at a standstill for more than a fortnight. The companies want the State to allow them to re-start mining operations.

The State Government ordered earlier this month that all miners close mines which were continuing operations on “deemed renewal” status. A majority of the State’s mines were operating this way.

The State directive was a follow-up of the recent amendment in the Mineral Concession Rules by the Centre, based on a Supreme Court directive. Earlier, miners were allowed to continue under “deemed renewal” status in case of the expiry of a mining lease. The new amendment has stopped this practice.

Coal supply unaffected

According to sources, operations at more than 20 iron ore, bauxite, uranium and copper mines in Jharkhand owned by both the public and private sector firms have been stopped from September 5. This, however, did not impact the State-owned Coal India Ltd, primarily due to its “national miner” status.

According to a top CIL official, the company acquires land through Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act that ensures “perpetual renewal” of mining leases. Also, the Coal Mines Nationalisation Act gives the Centre an overriding power to direct States to grant renewal of coal mine leases. CIL operates over 110 coal mines in Jharkhand.

But sectors other than coal are seriously impacted. SAIL and Tata Steel closed their iron ore mines in West Singhbhum districts; Hindalco Industries stopped the mining operations in Gumla and Lohardaga districts; Hindustan Copper and Uranium Corporation’s mines in East Singbhum district are also shut down.

Sources in the affected companies say that under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulations) Act 1957, the State has power to exempt miners from the amended rule. They have requested the Jharkhand Government to use this legal window to restart mining operations.

Though mining operations in the country are spread over a number of states, the current stalemate has affected Jharkhand exclusively.

First the apex court reserved its order on Odisha (one of the India’s top mineral-rich States) in a recent ruling. Preliminary enquiry suggests that mining leases were regularised in Chhatishgarh. Iron ore mining in Karnataka and Goa are governed by specific apex court orders.