Ownership of mineral rights : A case study of Manipur
Kachui Timothy Zimik, IRS
In order to understand the ownership of mineral rights and the mining operations in India, we need to study the relevant provisions of the Constitution of India and the mining laws. They are briefly discussed as under :
Ownership of mining rights in India
Serial No. 53 of the Union List (List 1) of the Constitution of India states that "Regulation and development of oilfields and mineral oil resources, petroleum and petroleum products; other liquids and substances declared by the Parliament by law to be dangerously inflammable". Serial No. 54 of the Union List states that "Regulation of mines and mineral development to the extent to which such regulation and development under the control of the Union is declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest".
In Serial No. 23 of the State List, it is stated that "Regulation of mines and mineral development subject to the provisions of List 1 with respect to regulation and development under the control of the Union".
Numerous mining laws have been enacted by the Parliament to regulate the mining operations in India. As per Section 15 of Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 (MMDRA), the State Governments have been given the power to make rules in respect of minor minerals such as building stones, gravel, ordinary clay/sand, etc.
It is generally assumed that the sub-soil minerals belong to the State. We now know that this is not correct in all cases.
In the landmark verdict in July, 2013, the Supreme Court of India in the case of Thressiamma Jacob & Others vs. Geologist, Department of Mining Geology & Others (Civil Appeal No. 4549 of 2000) has held that ownership over · 'minerals that lie beneath the soil does not necessarily lie with the state.
A three member bench concluded: "there is nothing in the law which declares that all mineral wealth sub-soil rights vest in the state; on the other hand, the ownership of sub-soil/mineral wealth should normally follow the ownership of the land, unless the owner of the land is deprived of the same by some valid process." This Supreme Court means that the ownership of mineral rights vests with the landowners.
In another recent landmark judgement dated 3rd July, 2019, the Supreme Court in the case of State of Meghalaya vs. Others (Civil Appeal No. 10720 of 2018) has held that- "From the foregoing discussions we arrived at following conclusions: .... 4) According to the land tenure system as applicable in the Hills
• Districts of State of Meghalaya, the most of the lands are either privately or community owned in which State does not claim any right.
The private owners of the land as well as community owners have both the surface right as well as sub-soil rights.
6) There is nothing in Section 4(1) of 1957 Act to indicate that restriction contained in Section 4(1) does not apply with regard to privately owned/community owned land in Hill Districts of Meghalaya.
Further, word 'any area' under Section 4(1) also has significance which does not have any exception. Further phrase "except under and in accordance with terms and condition with a mining lease granted under the Act" are also significant which make the intent and purpose of prohibition clear and loud.
10) In Hill District of State of Meghalaya for carrying coal mining operations in privately owned/community owned land it is not the State Government which shall grant the mining lease under Chapter V of Rules, 1960, but it is the private owner/community owner of the land, who is also the owner of the mineral, who shall grant lease for mining of coal as per provisions of Chapter V of Rules, 1960 after obtaining previous approval of the Central Government through the State Government."
In this ·Order, the Supreme Court has held that there is nothing in Section 4(1) of MMDRA to indicate that restriction contained in Section 4(1} does not apply with regard to privately owned/community owned land.
(To be continued)