The Centre in Indian politics can hold only if the parts are taken on board. That is at the heart of the federal principles of the Constitution. Given recent controversies and political turmoil, some issues demand Centre-state co-operation more than others. Land acquisition and extraction of mineral resources are two issues that have assumed unprecedented economic and political significance in recent years. There is much justification, therefore, in Naveen Patnaik’s demand that the Centre re-examine certain provisions of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill, 2011. In a letter to the prime minister, the chief minister of Odisha complains that these provisions infringe on the powers of the states. He makes two specific arguments: that the regulation of mines and mineral development is basically a state subject with the Centre having only limited legislative powers and that the Union government must not have any supervisory role over the states in the matter. He has no problem if a National Mining Regulatory Authority has only an advisory role. The bill, however, gives the Authority much more than such a role.
The issues Mr Patnaik raises should be of concern to all the states for two reasons. First, any tendency to violate the federalist spirit of the Constitution should be a matter of concern for the states. Second, the states must be convinced that a national mining and mineral development policy helps the states’ economies and addresses the concerns of their people. It is ultimately the state governments’ responsibility to ensure that the policy is implemented properly. There are two other reasons why the Centre must do all it can to work in tandem with the states in finalizing the bill. A workable mining policy is crucial for India at a time when the country is opening up the mining sector to foreign players in a big way. Mining and mineral development can attract foreign direct investment more than any other sector. The reason relates to political management of the mining sector. From its start, the Maoist rebellion in India has had much to do with mining and the issues involved in it. Despite the Centre’s role in it, fighting the Maoist rebels is primarily a state government’s responsibility. It would be wrong to see any political motive in Mr Patnaik’s concerns. Both the bill and the issues he has raised are too important to be dealt with in haste.