PRAHAR pitches for utilising DMF funds to fight COVID-19

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A corpus Rs. 23510 crore of unutilized DMF fund is available which if liquidated can bring great relief to the people in mineral states at a time of a national crisis

J P GUPTA

New Delhi:  A Delhi based NGO – PRAHAR (Public Response Against Helplessness and Action for Redressal) has urged the Government to actively use unutilized DMF (District Mineral Foundation) funds and accelerate relief efforts towards protection of lives and livelihoods for the COVID affected communities across states.

According to the data available on the Ministry of Mines website a sum of Rs. 35,925 crore have been collected in DMF funds in total as on January 31, 2020 out of which only 35% or Rs. 12,414 crore have been spent so far, leaving behind a corpus of Rs. 23510 crore to be spent.

On March 26, 2020, the Finance Minister Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman during an announcement urged DMF funds to be used to supplement and augment healthcare facilities, screening and testing requirements and any other resources that might be required by the state governments.

However, after 3 weeks only negligible progress has been made with few districts making some discretionary use of these funds. This is because of lack of clarity on the modalities of use of these funds for the purpose of saving lives and resurrecting livelihoods in the aftermath of the COVID outbreak.

Some mineral states like Goa have already been under deep economic crisis because of the judicial interpretation leading to cancellation of mining leases in March 2018 by the Supreme Court. This took away livelihoods of 30 per cent of the state’s population and brought 3 lakh mining dependents to the brink.

Recently, the COVID 19 pandemic has stopped Goa’s tourism business also. Goa has only two industries – tourism and mining. The tourism industry is unlikely to see a revival for the next 9 to 12 months and with mining also on a standstill, the state will suffer immensely.

Goa collected Rs. 188.65 crore in DMF Fund and Rs. 399 crore in Goa Iron Ore Permanent Fund till March 2018 when mining was operational. Out of this only 2% or Rs. 4 crore of DMF fund has been used for the welfare of people. At a time when the state is in its worst crisis, this corpus can act as a bail-out package. The Finance Ministers’ announcement and subsequent attempt by state authorities to use these funds is facing irresponsible opposition.

Commenting on the issue, PRAHAR National Convenor and President Abhay Raj Mishra, said, “In line with the Prime Minister’s clarion call to protect “Jaan bhi, Jahaan bhi” (lives and livelihoods), it is important to go all out to save lives and ensure economic survival of citizens at the bottom of the social pyramid during the current crisis.

We need to unlock all possible resources at this hour. These include unused corpuses such as DMF funds and keeping wheels of economic activity rolling wherever permissible. Nations who come out of this pandemic with least damage will have a strong position in the new world order and India, which is in a better position, cannot make mistakes in letting this crisis take over the future of our countrymen, he added.

“Yesterday, India witnessed its largest single day surge in COVID 19 positive cases till date at 2154 new cases. This after 26 days of continuous national lockdown and all preventive measures makes it unpredictable as to when this crisis will recede. If the present of our citizens is severely compromised, what is the point of holding resources for a future than nobody has seen?”

“Heartless opposition by institutions with a mindless goal to forcibly come across relevant should be stopped immediately as it exposes their true intentions. Our people need to survive and economy needs to revive for which all stakeholders including the executive, legislature, judiciary and civil society must work in unison”, he added.

According to the Minerals Act, 40 per cent of the DMF fund can be used for ‘other priority areas’ whereas 60 per cent should be reserved for the ‘priority areas’. This means that while 60 per cent of the fund can be kept for communities directly working in mining activities, the remaining can be used for the wellbeing of the state. DMF corpus is particularly attractive here.

Among the mineral-bearing states, Odisha collected the highest amount as DMF (Rs 9,502 crore) followed by Jharkhand (Rs 5,181 crore) and Chhattisgarh (Rs 4,981 crore) till January 2020. Other collections are Rajasthan (Rs 3,514 crore), Madhya Pradesh (Rs 2,864 crore), Telangana (Rs 2,774 crore), Karnataka (Rs 1,842 crore), Maharashtra (Rs 1,728 crore), Andhra Pradesh (Rs 906 crore), Gujarat (Rs 668 crore), Uttar Pradesh (Rs. 651 crore), Tamil Nadu (Rs 610 crore) and Goa (Rs 189 crore).

When it comes to spending of the proceeds, Chhattisgarh stands first with spending of Rs 3,359 crore till January followed by Odisha at Rs 2,794 crore and Jharkhand at Rs 2,409 crore. Even smaller states like Assam collected Rs. 80 crore, Himachal Rs. 143 crore, Meghalaya Rs. 48 crore and West Bengal Rs. 43 crore.

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