RS passes Mines Bill, overcoming procedural wrangles

RS passes Mines Bill, overcoming procedural wranglesNEW DELHI: After much controversy and procedural wrangles, the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2015, was passed by the Rajya Sabha today with all parties, barring Congress and the Left, supporting it.

JD-U members walked out before the voting saying they did not want to be part of the procedure.

The Bill was passed by 117 members voting in favor and 69 against it, after Mines Minister Narendra Singh Tomar moved it for passage.

The House earlier saw a lot of discussion on a motion moved by P Rajeeve of CPI (M), which sought that the measure be re-sent to the Select Committee as it had not taken the views of all stakeholders including state governments.

This amendment was voted out after a division, with parties like TMC, NCP, SP, BSP, BJD, AIADMK, DMK and JMM, besides allies Shiv Sena and SAD supporting the government.

The rejection of the motion by 112 votes against and 68 in favor, paved the way for the House to take up the Bill for voting.

During the short debate on Rajeeve’s motion, members voiced concern over the plight of tribals living in the mining areas and issues relating to their rehabilitation.

Some members also pointed out that the bill could fail the legal test and be struck down by courts as it seeks to impinge on the rights of states, which were not consulted by the Select Committee looking into the bill.

The bill further to amend the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, as passed by Lok Sabha and as reported by the Select Committee of Rajya Sabha, would now be sent back to Lok Sabha before it becomes a law.

The Select Committee to which the bill was referred to by the Rajya Sabha brought in one amendment in it and passed it.

Incidentally when Deputy Chairman P J Kurien put the motion to pass the bill to voice vote, he inadvertently announced “I think the Noes have it” and soon announced division of votes, to which the Left and Congress members objected.

To this, Kurien said he had already called for a division which would take care of the actual numbers in favor or against the bill.
Staging a walkout ahead of voting on the bill, Sharad Yadav (JD-U) said, “We are not in favor of it. We do not want to be a part of it and that is why we are walking out.”

Moving his motion for referring the bill back to the Select Committee for wider consultations including with states, Rajeeve said as per Supreme Court, state governments are owners of mines and minerals and there was a fundamental violation of law as the Select Committee did not consult them and the panel was “not allowed to function democratically”.

“It is the duty of Council of States (Rajya Sabha) to ensure that the fundamental right of state governments is not violated and it is our duty to ensure that. The bill should address the concerns of states and the people living around mines, including tribals,” he said.

Earlier Kurien ruled that Rajeeve’s motion was in order and a Bill transmitted from Lok Sabha and referred to Select Committee of Rajya Sabha, can again be referred to the panel.

“I have gone through the entire rules relating to legislature,” he said, adding Rule 125 cited by government to state that any bill passed and transmitted from the Lower House and can only be referred to the Rajya Sabha Select Committee once and thus the motion was not legal, “is not complete in itself.”

Kurien said the CPI (M) member’s motion was “in order” and then allowed members to speak on it.

The Treasury benches and the Opposition also shared some lighter moments when Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi asked members, especially those from the Left, to press the red button (or vote against it), to which Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) objected.

Naqvi’s comments were taken forward by Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu who said “since the Communists represent red color they should press the red color (button)”.

The battlelines were drawn with TMC and AIADMK clearly supporting the Bill, while Congress and Left parties insisting that it should be again referred to the select panel for wider consultations including with states who own minerals.

Bhupender Yadav (BJP), who headed by the Select Committee that recommended approval of the government legislation with just one amendment, said the Bill was drafted after wide consultations with stakeholders and states rights have been given considerations.

The Bill, he said, provided for allocation of the resource on transparent and simplified procedure by doing away with discretion. A district level fund from royalty proceeds will be created for development of local community, he said.

Participating in the debate, BJD’s Dilip Kumar Tirkey supported the bill saying it would help introduce a transparent system for allocation of mines while pointing out that the Centre should not take over the states’ powers.

However, he claimed that some clauses which took away powers from states to the Centre have been deleted and said this went “against the spirit of Federalism.” He also hoped that the states’ concerns would be addressed.

K T S Tulsi (Nom) cautioned the Centre that the bill risks itself of falling foul in court as previous judgments of Supreme Court clearly stated that ownership of mines and whatever lies beneath the earth belongs to states.

“The Centre has virtually robbed the states of mineral wealth that belongs to them as per Constitution. Under the 1957 law, it was a collaborative exercise, but in the present bill there are several clauses that practically reduce the rights of states. I caution the government that this bill risks of falling foul under law,” he said.

Supporting the measure, Sanjiv Kumar (JMM) said pollution and illegal mining was a big problem, while compulsory afforestation was not happening in tribal areas and CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority) funds were being held up.

“Compensation issues are not being resolved in Jharkhand.

Officials behave like zamindars with tribals and not as public servants. Directions be given to them. I support the bill in the hope that government will take care of the concerns raised by us,” he said.

Mani Shankar Aiyar (Cong) said though he welcomed the clause that takes care of panchayats’ interests, he was in favor of sending the bill back to the Select Committee for wider consultations and supported Rajeeve’s amendment.

“We had no consultation with states due to paucity of time. If only the Select Committee would have been allowed to function of its own and talks held with all stakeholders including states, this report would never have come in this form…We are on the verge of passing a bill which is likely to be ultra vires of the Constitution,” he said.

Referring to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s remarks that obstructionism could only give “sadistic thrill” to the opposition, Aiyar said “it was they who truly practiced sadistic thrill when they were in opposition” and wondered how the BJP members had become proponents of parliamentary democracy after shifting to the other (ruling) side. –PTI

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