With several mineral deposits, India ranks first in the production of coal, iron ore, chromite, mica, and bauxite. Besides, it has large deposits of building stones such as granite, marble, limestone etc. in addition to huge deposits of cement and steel grade limestone. India has a maximum number of mining leases of major and minor minerals in addition to nearly 20,000 quarry licenses in Rajasthan. India has thousands of illegal unorganized mines, which can be as small as the twentieth portion of a hectare. However, most of these minerals will last for merely 50 to 100 year at the current rate of production.
Rajasthan is a mineral rich state although the minor mineral sector in Rajasthan is a gray area as its production is not recognized in the official records. There are over 3 million people working in Rajasthan’s mineral production sector, largely dominated by marginalized communities as 95 per cent of the workforce constitutes Dalits or people from tribal communities (Bhushan, Hazra and Banerjee, 2008). This being largely an unorganized sector, unfair wage structure, denial of basic rights such as access to water and toilet facilities, social security, safe working conditions and compensation in the case of injury or accidental death do not exist. This also has implications for the implementation of environment protection measures (Singh and Pandey, 2007).
There is no doubt that mining is essential for development. However, mining by nature, destroys the land, forest and disturbs water regimes. The term sustainable mining is a misnomer simply because all ore bodies or stone reserves are finite and non-renewable. Similarly, terms like environment-friendly mining or ‘green mining’ are misleading too. Even the best-managed mines will have adverse environment impacts. In addition, large-scale displacement and loss of livelihood of locals are also inevitable—leading to poverty and thus have to be reconciled with when mining is proposed.
Issues of governance
Mining is a sector in which laws related to mining’s socio-environmental impacts have not been codified clearly. A multiplicity of agencies and institutions managing these laws add to the confusion. Consequently, illegal mining and illegal practices in legal mining are rampant. In its recent communication, the Indian Ministry of Mines informed the parliament about as many as 85,000 cases of illegal mining in response to a starred question in July 2014. The actual number may be much more. Mining requires environmental clearances from various agencies yet even today mining activities are taking place in highly ecologically sensitive areas, reserved forests, wildlife sanctuaries and protected areas such as the Himalayas, the Aravalis and along the coasts and shorelines. There is no moratorium on mining anywhere in the country.
The environment laws are meant to ensure that projects which are ecologically destructive are not allowed. However, fugitive dust is generated from almost every mining operation, particularly from open cast mining, drilling, blasting, hauling, loading and unloading, transporting, crushing and other beneficiation processes leading to lung related diseases. Towns such as Korba, Bhilai, Satna, and Dhanbad have been declared as critical by the Central Pollution Control Board. Various protective laws are followed in the breach rather than in terms of implementation. Best practices like simultaneous reclamation, collection, and treatment of surface run-off, fugitive dust control from mining and transportation, tailings management and effective treatment of tailings discharge, storage of tailings, waste rock and slimes on the impervious ground etc., should be codified and made mandatory. Currently, no regulatory standards exist for containing the impact of mining, especially relevant to water.
Issues to save eco-sensitive areas
Mineral production in the Aravali Ranges and consequent deforestation and ecological devastation is one of the most well-known examples that mining activity can exercise. Aravali Mountains are one of the main watersheds, separating the drainage of the Bay of Bengal from that of the Arabian Sea. Mining in the catchment areas has played its part in threatening the water bodies of the regions. Hence in 1992, Government of India notified Aravalis in Gurgaon and Alwar under the Environment Protection Act as ecologically sensitive areas.
Rampant illegal mining was/is going on in the Aravalis against all norms and in contravention of Environment and Forest Acts. The Supreme Court had to intervene and issue a blanket ban on the mining in the Aravalis in May 2009 which is still continuing. However, in order to circumvent the order, the authorities in collusion with the strong mining lobby had the definition of the hills redefined. According to this definition, hills start above 100 m of ground level. This means that the ground up to 100 m level does not comprise Aravalis and hence can be leased for mining. Obviously, the Geological Survey of India could not agree to the unscientific proposition. Even then, the Rajasthan state government continues to propagate the said definition. More alarmingly, they are continuing their campaign of misinformation.
Issues of displacement and rehabilitation
The critical issues of displacement and rehabilitation are quite in the forefront when it comes to mining and mineral-based industrialization, especially where large scale mechanized mining is taking place. Most of the mining areas are located in remote and poorly developed regions, inhibited by marginal sections of the society. The mineral exploitation thus results in large-scale uprooting and further impoverishment of communities.
The National Policy on Rehabilitation and Resettlement 2003 is in the form of broad guidelines, applicable only to projects that displace 500 families or more en masse in the plains and 250 families in hills. It has other drawbacks as well. None of the existing rehabilitation and resettlement policies in the country recognize the principle of free, informed and prior consent, nor do they envisage sharing of benefits of the project with the project-affected people.
It is important to recognize and accept the fact that local communities, especially the tribal populace, receive a raw deal from the government as well as the industry. Hence, a ‘social license to operate’ may be implemented. Though the law envisages that public hearing takes place, but it is treated as a formality only. The industry finds no reason for taking people’s consent. This can be facilitated if a share of benefits of mining is envisaged. The UNICEF estimates that approximately 20 percent of mine workers are children. Young girls earn less than any other group of employees in mining, making them particularly attractive to businesses driven by profit. Overall woman make up 10-15 percent of quarry workers and 40.5 percent of these women are 5–15 years old (Bhushan, Hazra and Banerjee, 2008).
Mining of different minerals has different health impacts. In and around the lead-zinc mines, the ions of these metals in the air lead to lung related diseases. Their excessive presence in the soil may enter the food chain, the impact of which is still a subject of research. The silica dust in and around sandstone mines is the cause of silicosis (also known as grinder’s disease). It is a form of occupational lung disease and is marked by inflammation and scarring in the form of nodular lesions in the upper lobes of the lungs. The National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad compiled a report that revealed a pattern in the incidence of silicosis: 54.5 per cent in making slate pencils, 21 per cent in stone quarries, 38 per cent in agate polishing units and 12 per cent in stone crushing units (Rathod and Smita, 2013). A number of studies carried out in mining areas point in the same direction. A study in Jodhpur sandstone mines revealed that out of 288 mine workers examined, 14 percent were found to be suffering from severe silicosis and 28 per cent found to be suffering from silicosis of less severity. This disease is incurable, but preventable provided nose muffs are used—which of course is not taken care of. The survey also revealed that in the mining villages, widows of the workers suffering from the silicosis who, hardly survive after the age of 40, are in abundance (Jhanwar, 1997).
The cement industry is one of the most polluting industries. It is a major source of particulate matter, SOx, NOx, COx emissions. Cement dust contains heavy metals like nickel, cobalt, lead and chromium which are pollutants hazardous to the biotic environment with adverse impact on vegetation, human and animal health and ecosystems. Adverse effects are seen in the people exposed to cement dust, exemplified in increased frequency of respiratory symptoms and decreased ventilatory functions. Cement dust irritates the skin, the mucous membrane of the eyes and the respiratory system. Occupational cement dust exposure has been associated with increased risks of liver abnormalities, pulmonary disorders, and carcinogenesis.
The credibility of mining sector (Verma, 2012) has been badly affected as in the case of the Karnataka mining fiasco. The mines there had to be closed under the orders of the Supreme Court because the illegal mining could not be halted by the government’s regulatory authorities. Indeed, little illegality occurs at many mines in the country, but when mining becomes reckless with disregard to social and environmental norms, it amounts to a national crime and that is what happened in Karnataka. Similar examples are evident from Goa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan as well.
If there is no social investment from mining, governments may decide effective legislative changes to extract larger share from the so-called ‘super-profits’ earned by the mining companies. Mineral-rich states of the country are voicing their concern to fill state coffers with the profits from resource exploitation so that the same can be utilized for welfare agenda. In their view, the proposed taxation in the new Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation (MMDR) Bill towards profit sharing is not enough in comparison with the magnitude of profits earned by the mining companies. Local people, who remained poor even after 60 years are up in arms. Mining, whether legal or illegal, is always disastrous to an environment and damaging to society and thus needs to be undertaken with responsibility and rethinking.
Mining is a process that leaves wastages. The laws of the land, therefore, have to be strictly followed and loopholes in these laws have to be plugged. On the one hand, the finite resource of the earth—the basic economic capital for development, is vanishing rapidly while on the other the basic life supporting systems of the earth: the air, water, and soil are being destroyed leading to social, economic and ecological crises. There is, therefore, an urgency to develop a proactive approach which is economically viable, developmentally sustainable, socially acceptable and environmentally feasible in the new mining policy and legislation.
- Bhushan, C., M. Z. Hazra and S. Banerjee. 2008. Rich Lands Poor People: Is ‘Sustainable’ Mining Possible? Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.
- Jhanwar, M. L. 1997. Mining, Environment, and Development in R. K. Sinha (Eds.). Environment Crisis and Humans at Risk. INA Shree publishers: Jaipur, pp 143-154
- Rathod S. B. and S. R. Smita. 2013. Effect of Duration of Exposure to Silica Dust on Lung Function Impairment in Stone Crusher Workers of Marathwada Region.
- Singh V. S. and D. N. Pandey. 2007. Human health risk due to cement dust exposure: Policy Brief. Rajasthan State Pollution Control Board, Jaipur.
- Verma, V K. 2012. Editorials. Mining Engineers’ Journal, 13 (7): 7.
The author is a Retired Director, Geological Survey of India. email@example.com