Fluoride Action Network

How Not To Use A Development Fund For Mineral-Rich Areas

Source: IndiaSpend | October 24th, 2017 | By Shreya Shah
Location: India

Bhilwara, Rajasthan: Like much of Mewar in Rajasthan, Bhilwara has rich reserves of prized granite and base metals such as iron, zinc and lead. Mining companies such as Hindustan Zinc and Jindal Saw have invested hundreds of crores in the region, yet Bhilwara remains underdeveloped on most socioeconomic indicators.

There is water shortage and contamination throughout the district. Roads are non-existent or potholded. The rates of child marriage and female illiteracy are high. And at least 1,000 mine workers are afflicted with silicosis, an incurable disease caused by fine silica dust released from mineral mining operations.

This is the case with most mineral-rich areas across India, where mining has not only failed to benefit local residents but has degraded lands and rivers and destroyed traditional livelihoods. It is this anomaly that the Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Kalyan Yojana (PMKKKY) seeks to remedy by creating a corpus for local area development from a levy on all mining operations.

A great idea in theory, PMKKKY’s implementation so far has been less impressive. IndiaSpend’s investigation in Bhilwara shows a district administration treating the PMKKKY funds as an extension of existing government funding, displaying no better planning, targeting or urgency. Implementation is entirely top-down, so much so that villagers have not even heard of PMKKKY. Planning is piecemeal and short-sighted. Members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) have established too much control over the funds. And the mining department does not have enough staff or expertise to handle the task it has been entrusted with.

Bhilwara had collected an impressive Rs 400 crore by October 7, 2017–compare that with the district’s health budget of Rs 23 crore for the current year–yet the fund lies unutilised.

This second part of our two-part series on PMKKKY examines whether there is a better way to handle and use PMKKKY funds. The first part detailed why Bhilwara, and other mining regions, need a development fund (read it here).

How a District Mineral Foundation works
District Mineral Foundations (DMF) are independent trusts set up by the government under a 2015 programme called the Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Kalyan Yojana (PMKKY, or Prime Minister’s Development Programme for Mining-Affected Regions).

The foundations manage a trust fund created from a levy on mining companies. Those mining major minerals (such as copper, tungsten and coal) must pay an amount equivalent to 30% of the royalty of a mine leased before 2015 towards the fund; all mines leased after 2015 as well as those extracting minor minerals (such as marble and granite) must pay 10% of the royalty.

DMFs comprise two committees, the makeup of which is decided by the state government. In Rajasthan, the managing committee is headed by the district collector, while the governing council, which has the final say on any decision taken, is headed by the Zila Pradhan (who is elected by and from among all district-level elected office-holders including sarpanches (elected village heads) and MLAs).

Upto 40% of PMKKKY funds can be used for physical infrastructure such as roads and bridges, irrigation projects, power supply and watershed development. The remaining 60% or so are to be used for social development purposes such as education; environment and pollution control measures; healthcare; drinking water supply; welfare of women, children, the aged and the disabled; skill development; and sanitation.

These committees, in consultation with other government departments such as public works, water and education, decide which areas and people are categorised as mining-affected, allocate the fund, approve projects and monitor their implementation.

Top-down implementation

DMF’s success will depend on the extent to which it is able to democratise planning, decision-making and implementation, Chandra Bhushan, deputy director-general of the Delhi-based research and advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), told IndiaSpend. CSE has been tracking DMFs across India and is helping some districts prepare a plan to better utilise the funds. “At the end of the day, this is not the government’s money… It’s people’s money and therefore people should have the right to decide where they want to spend this money,” he said.

Few villagers IndiaSpend interacted with knew of PMKKKY or the fund, making it unlikely they had been consulted or in any way involved in the decision-making.

In the village of Nayanagar, residents said their biggest problem is water shortage–borewells have to be dug deep yet go dry in the summer. When IndiaSpend told them about the fund, they said they would want a groundwater recharge project, perhaps one that would build a check-dam on Banas river that flows 30 km from the village.

The DMF has proposed projects involving borewells and solar pumps, but villagers say these will not work. “A recently installed hand pump is already not working,” said Prabhu Gurjar, a farmer who travels to Mumbai as a migrant worker in the off-season.

District officials said a check-dam on the Banas may not be feasible, but admitted that no one had suggested this or any other water recharge proposal under the DMF for this village.

The other problem in villages, according to officials from the public health engineering department of Jahazpur block, is excess fluoride in the water, which can cause stained and pitted teeth in children, and pain in the joints and even bone deformities.

A reverse osmosis plant has also been proposed for the area, but it will not cover the village of Nayanagar as it does not receive piped water supply, Dheeraj Gurjar, a Congress MLA from Jahazpur, told IndiaSpend.

Clearly, villagers and officials are not on the same page, yet there is currently no plan to create awareness about the fund. Government officials and MLAs said word will spread as projects begin on the ground, but those projects would have been planned and executed entirely top-down.

“In a democracy, there are representatives of people. In my opinion we have received proposals from the ground through this channel,” Kamleshwar Baregama, a senior mining engineer with the mining department in Bhilwara, who is also the secretary-general of the two DMF committees, told IndiaSpend.

Civil society organisations disagree. “Seventy years of democracy in this country tells us that we have to start putting more faith in participatory democracy and not only electoral democracy,” Bhushan of CSE said, emphasising that there are accountability gaps in electoral democracy.

Incomplete information

The grassroots experience so far has been disappointing. “Even if transparency is talked about as part of the law, it is difficult to find out things about the DMF,” Nikhil Dey of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a Rajasthan-based grassroots movement, told IndiaSpend.

For instance, the mining department is not making public the projects it is considering through the DMF. When asked, the department said only the list of approved projects would be made public.

Every district’s DMF is supposed to have a website detailing the money in its fund, minutes of every meeting, the current status of implementation of projects and so on. Bhilwara DMF’s website is still under construction.

As much as 85% of Bhilwara is affected by mining and its undesirable fallouts, as IndiaSpend reported in the first part of this series. This includes villages on or near mining lands, areas lying in the path of wind or water flow from mines, as well as mining dispatch regions such as the paths of trucks ferrying minerals.

However, there is a lack of clarity on some issues, for instance, whether silicosis-affected mine workers who live in villages not considered mining-affected are eligible for benefits under the fund. For such people, the government “would need to conduct a ground survey for which there is currently no manpower”, said Baregama, the mining engineer.

Even where a more participatory process is followed, there is incomplete information. For instance, panchayat heads, when asked to send proposals, are unaware of the PMKKKY law and its provisions. Kailash Chandra Suthar, sarpanch (village head) of Kankroliya, said he found out about the DMF from an MLA and the zila pradhan (literally, district head, president of a directly-elected district council). “They told me there is a lot of money, and that we should send proposals of projects we would like to undertake,” he said.

Suthar said he sent proposals for about Rs 8 crore–Rs 5 crore for a bridge over a small stream that overflows in the monsoons, Rs 2.5 crore to repair a road, Rs 25 lakh for a check dam, and Rs 2.5 lakh for solar pumps–but that he had made these choices based on limited information. He did not know what size of projects he could propose, or the priority areas suggested under the law, he said, but had been informed that all his proposals had been approved and he could send new proposals when more funds come in.

Suthar’s experience, despite the lack of information, shows how participative democracy can work when the PMKKKY is implemented well.

The district mines department, however, says it is flooded with unviable proposals. “People are not aware of the guidelines and they send proposals of projects that are not within the scope of the law,” a local government official told IndiaSpend, not wishing to be identified. The department had received 3,696 proposals by September.

MLAs had started submitting project proposals even before the DMF had identified mining-affected regions, blocks and panchayats. Despite being members of the governing council, which takes final decisions for the DMF, many MLAs did not seem to have much knowledge about the fund. Ramlal Gurjar, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA from Asind constituency–where there is an acute water shortage in several areas, and fluoride-contaminated water in some villages–said he “knew a little about the fund”.

Gurjar said he had proposed roads in mining areas, construction of classrooms, piped water and borewells, among other projects. On being asked whether anything had been proposed for silicosis patients in Asind, he said, “We’ve previously provided some funds for medicines for silicosis patients but nothing has been proposed under the DMF.”

*Read more of this long and important article at http://www.indiaspend.com/cover-story/how-not-to-use-a-development-fund-for-mineral-rich-areas-40871