Principal applicable environmental laws

What are the principal environmental laws applicable to the mining industry? What are the principal regulatory bodies that administer those laws?

The principal environmental laws applicable to the mining industry include:

  • the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 (EPA);
  • the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980;
  • the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974; and
  • the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981.

Further, the MMDR Act empowers the federal government to frame rules for conservation and sustainable development of minerals and for the protection of environment by preventing or controlling pollution which may be caused by prospecting or mining operations. The MCDR regulates environmental aspects of mining and provides for sustainable mining.

The principal regulatory bodies are Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) and the Central and State Pollution Control Board. Specifically, in relation to mining, the Indian Bureau of Mines and the state government also regulate mining.

Environmental review and permitting process

What is the environmental review and permitting process for a mining project? How long does it normally take to obtain the necessary permits?

The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006 notified by the MoEF under the EPA provisions regulates the grant of environment clearances. The impact on the environment resulting from a mining project is assessed by an EIA study. Consequently, an environmental management plan is prepared and the environment clearance is granted stipulating conditions to minimise impact on the environment from the project.

Further, in the case of mining projects on forest land, the federal government may stipulate mitigative measures for diversion of forest land, such as creation and maintenance of compensatory afforestation.

The EIA process for mining takes a year, if not longer, as the EIA study has to be conducted over three seasons along with public consultations, followed by review by the appraisal committee. If forest land is involved, then the clearance for diverting the forest land also needs to be obtained in parallel. While, earlier, the process of getting environmental clearance was known to stretch for two years or more, under the present policy to spur industry and development, clearances are granted in less time.

Closure and remediation process

What is the closure and remediation process for a mining project? What performance bonds, guarantees and other financial assurances are required?

A mining rights holder has to prepare two mine closure plans - a progressive mine closure plan and a final mine closure plan. The progressive mine closure plan is submitted with the mining plan while the final closure plan is submitted for approval two years prior to the proposed closure. The rights holder has to ensure that the protective measures including reclamation and rehabilitation works are carried out according to the approved mine closure plan. The government authority must certify that all protective works in accordance with the final mine closure plan have been carried out.

Further, for concessions granted other than by auction, a financial assurance in the form of bank guarantee has to be furnished for proper implementation of the mine closure plan, failing which the state government may realise this bank guarantee. For concessions granted by auction, if proper closure and remediation according to the mine closure plan is not followed, the performance security can be realised as per the provisions of the mine development and production agreement signed between the parties.

Restrictions on building tailings or waste dams

What are the restrictions for building tailings or waste dams?

Under the MCDR, the rights holder must ensure that:

  • overburden, waste rock, tailings and slimes are stored in separate dumps;
  • the waste dams are properly secured to prevent floods and escape of material in quantities that may cause degradation of environment;
  • the site for waste dams, tailings or slimes is as far as possible on impervious ground to ensure minimum leaching; and
  • the waste dumps are to be suitably terraced and stabilised through vegetation or otherwise.

Inspection of mines is carried out by the Indian Bureau of Mines in an order of priority. For example, fully mechanised large mines are to be inspected at least twice a year. Mines, where approved mining plans are modified, have to be inspected based on the increase in production; for example, a mine where production is increased by more than 50 per cent has to be inspected every three months.

While no specific qualifications are detailed for persons in charge of operation and management of dam waste, qualified and experienced mining engineers and geologists need to be employed by mining companies for conducting prospecting and mining works. There are no requirements for mandatory alarm systems or emergency drills with local communities. The government has the primary responsibility for the rescue of people in case of a dam failure; however, under the doctrine of absolute liability in India, the mining companies would be liable for the dam failure or loss of life or injury caused by dam failure.