It is ironic that India’s mineralrich districts are also those where some of the country’s poorest live. This deep economic and social inequality also afflicts Odisha, a key mining state of the country. According to latest poverty estimates of the Government of India, more than 36 per cent of the people in rural areas of Odisha fall below the poverty line, much higher than the national average of about 26 per cent. Further, 27 districts in the state have been identified as backward by the Planning Commission. The situation is far worse for tribal population in these areas; more then 75 per cent of them fall below the poverty line.
For India’s democracy, this inequality has remained a dark aspect. In 2008, Centre for Science and Environment published a citizen’s report, Rich Lands Poor People: Is Sustainable Mining Possible?, asking for a new social and environmental contract to address the inequality that burdens mining affected areas. A decade of discussion and negotiations has gone into addressing this through various platforms. In 2015, finally, India’s Central mining law, the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act (MMDR) of 1957 was amended and District Mineral Foundation (DMF) was instituted.
With DMF, for the first time, the right of people to benefit from natural resources has been recognized. This is a defining opportunity to rewrite the contract between rich lands and its poor people.