India: Parliament boost to Modi's plans: Coal, mining bills passed by Rajya Sabha

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The coal bill was passed by a division vote - 107 in favour and 69 against. The opposition Congress and the Left voted against the bill while the Janata Dal-United and the Rashtriya Janata Dal abstained.

Shortly after a crucial bill on mining, the Rajya Sabha also passed the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill 2015 on Friday, the last day of the first half of Parliament's Budget session, which is likely to be extended for other pending legislations.

In a repeat of what happened with the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Amendment Bill 2015, the coal bill was also favoured by the Trinamool Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Biju Janata Dal, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Samajwadi Party and the AIADMK.

The coal bill was passed by a division vote - 107 in favour and 69 against. The opposition Congress and the Left voted against the bill while the Janata Dal-United and the Rashtriya Janata Dal abstained.

The coal bill opens the sector for commercial mining and aims to facilitate the auction of over 200 cancelled coal blocks. The auction of the coal mines had led to a huge scandal during the UPA regime in which former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is also an accused.

"This is an important day for democracy, Parliament and the Indian economy as the politics of obstructionism of the Congress has been defeated," Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters outside Parliament.

"There will be a concrete arrangement of computerized auction of coal and mineral blocks," Jaitley said, adding, "All the money collected in national treasury through the auction of coal and minerals will be given to the coal and mineral-bearing states."

Mining bill passed by Rajya Sabha

The bill for the development of mines and minerals, to bring a regime of auctioning blocks for prospecting, was passed by Parliament on Friday even as the opposition parties, notably Congress and Left Front, demanded a re-look by the select committee.

The bill was first put for voting in the Rajya Sabha after debate and 117 members were in its favour and 69 against it, but not before Steel and Mines Minister Narendra Singh Tomar moved two amendments, based on the suggestions of the relevant select committee. Accordingly, it was taken up again by the Lok Sabha -- which had already passed its original form on March 3 -- and it was again okayed by a voice vote after a brief discussion.

Minister Tomar said he was happy that the select panel made the suggestions, which the government accepted. "These are good provisions. I am happy the Rajya Sabha endorsed it. But basic thrust has not changed," he said.

Once the bill gets presidential consent, the new legislation will replace the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Ordinance of 2015), promulgated on January 12.

Mining leases for minerals may go the coal way

Primarily, the new bill seeks to introduce a regime of auction to grant prospecting licences, like for coal blocks. It proposes that there will no renewal of mining concessions, unlike the original act of 1957. But it proposes a licence for 50 years as against 30 now. The government has already identified 199 mines for auction.

The proposed legislation also calls for the setting up of a District Mineral Foundation where mining takes place that will address the grievances of the people affected by mining, with a contribution not exceeding a third of the royalty rate.

Another body, the National Mineral Exploration Trust, shall be appointed by the central government for regional and pan-India planning. Some opposition parties, led by the Biju Janata Dal, opposed it saying it infringed on the rights of states -- a stand earlier supported by the Congress and Trinamool Congress. The opposition had also prevented its introduction in the Rajya Sabha where the treasury is in minority.

Among its other salient features, the new act, once in force, will add a new schedule to include mining of bauxite, iron ore, limestone and manganese ore, now called notified minerals, under its purview.

The new act will call for state governments to grant mining leases and prospecting license-cum-mining leases for notified and other minerals, with the central government's approval, which will prescribe the terms and conditions for selection of bidders as also the procedure for auction.

The central government may also reserve some mines exclusively for some specific purposes, as also set the eligibility conditions for the same. To plug another loophole that leads to arbitrariness, the central government will be permitted to increase the area allowed for mining, instead of granting additional leases.

Presently, while 10 sq km is set as maximum limit for prospecting per lessee, a leeway is given to alter this.

SOURCE: March 20th, 2016: