Sufficient geological evidence points out mineral deposits like bauxite, iron, coal, manganese etc. are abundantly found in India. It is also pertinent to note that a major portion of these deposits remain untapped. Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh are among India’s major mineral bearing states, and as a consequence, most affected by mining.
Mineral Production in India
According to the Annual Report 2015-2016, submitted by the Ministry of Mines, the total value of mineral production (excluding atomic minerals) in India, for the year 2015-2016, is estimated at INR 2,68,955 crore, which shows a decrease of about 5.05 per cent over that of the previous year. The number of mines which reported mineral production (excluding atomic minerals, crude petroleum, natural gas and minor minerals) decreased to 1,878 in 2015-2016 from 3,524 in the preceding year. In terms of share of states in the value of mineral production, for the same year—Jharkhand (208 mines) contributed 16.78 per cent, Chhattisgarh (154 mines) contributed 29.25 per cent and Odisha (158 mines) contributed 4.55 per cent. Juxtaposed against in-depth logistic data freely available for the mining sector, is the paucity of statistics on the adverse effects of mining on environment. Despite claims of mining sector being a major facilitator in India’s growth, local and region specific reports present a contrary scenario.
Ravi Rebbapragada, Chairperson of Mines, Minerals and People, a not-for profit advocacy outfit, says, ‘while mining directly contributes a very small percentage in the gross domestic product (GDP) it affects large areas in the process. And essentially the impact varies on resources, on people, on social structure, on forests and on wildlife, including water resources underground.’
Adverse effects of Mining
According to the Forest Survey of India’s Report, 2015, in Chhattisgarh, the tribal population constitute 30.62 per cent of its total population, while the recorded forest area constitutes 44.21 per cent of Chhattisgarh’s geographical area signifying the deep dependency of the tribes on the forested lands. The large scale mining in Chhattisgarh has had a major impact on the environment, leading to soil erosion, formation of sinkholes, depletion of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes (Sahoo, 2005).
Uma Dey Sarkar, Research Fellow, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, is of the opinion that while the benefits to the economy cannot be denied, even a rudimentary perusal of the mining sector opens a pandora’s box. Not only has the economic scenario in this sector been grim since the beginning of this decade (with negative growth rates being a regular feature and use of outdated technology leading to less ‘efficiency’ in extraction of resources), the social and ecological impacts of unregulated mining rarely finds space in the State’s imagination. Much of India’s mineral resources lie in areas which are ecologically sensitive and disproportionately populated by tribal communities.
It is notable that the three states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand which contribute about one-fourth of the country’s mineral production (in value terms) perform the worst among other major states in human development indices. Abundance of natural resources in these states has attracted both public and private investments which have, in turn, meant encroachment on land and displacement of people. This is especially true since the sector has been liberalised, allowing almost 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in most sectors of mining, with transnational corporations (TNCs) rushing to enter into memorandum of understanding (MoUs) with different state governments. Land grabbing in these states has become a regular feature, side-lining the interests of tribal communities whose livelihoods depend entirely on these forest lands. Mining-induced displacement impoverishes communities more than benefitting them. Not only have traditional rights of the tribal communities been ignored, even constitutional rights have been undermined as is perceptible in the recent attempts by the Odisha government (representing Odisha Mining Corporation) to overturn the resolution against mining which was passed by the gram sabhas in the affected areas on grounds of ‘technical errors’ while passage of resolution. As far back as 2003, the Government of Odisha had constituted a sub-committee to discuss implications of the Samata Judgment only to conclude that it was not binding on the State. It is also to be noted that rehabilitation is weak by most projects but in case of mining, it is even lower (Fernandes, 2007).
The mining sector in the country presents a picture of wilful lawlessness and negligence. Illegal mining and mining scams have been reported from all major ore-bearing states with official statistics indicating a whopping 82000 cases of illegal mining in the year 2010 (Human Rights Watch, 2012). Not only has there been systemic corruption (including money laundering and tax evasions by state ministers and other officials), underpayment of royalties to the state has caused severe losses to the state exchequers. Undoubtedly, the mining sector is plagued by the broader patterns of corruption and governance failures inherent in many policies in the country, but the recent Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill (MMDR) 2015 would not do much to help clean and push the sector towards better economic efficiency. Longer lease period and fresh auctioning at the end of lease, with inadequate provision for periodic audits, would further downgrade the regulatory mechanism while simultaneously taking away any motivation to reclose older mines as mining progresses. It may give rise to even larger number of abandoned mines with no one being responsible for the environmental consequences. The Bill has also considerably diluted the provisions meant for passing on the material benefits of mining in an area to the people who originally owned the land.
The need of the hour is to prepare regional plans to organise and manage mining activities to minimise the effects on both environment and people instead of myopically deciding on a case-by-case basis while granting mining leases. The mining companies should itself look towards reduce-reuse-recycle. Progress needs to be made by a more responsible government and make it accountable to the people.
Continuous setting up of development projects and urbanisation has given way to encroachments, with more and more people coming in from outside and settling in these regions hoping for better financial prospects at the cost of the indigenous people getting displaced and forced to resettle elsewhere. A total of 40882 people in Jharkhand and 300000 people in Odisha were displaced between the years 1951-2000, due to mining (Sarkar, 2015).
Exploitation and displacement of tribals by the state and the private investors often lead to retaliations by the tribals. In many cases, displaced tribals are not given any alternate land or are provided with land that is unfit for cultivation, leading them to cut down fresh patches of forests and start over. Harassment from the forest department either in the form of extortion of money or by arrest and criminal proceedings is also reported (Singh, 2015).
Hundreds of people of Kalahandi district in Odisha took out rallies and processions carrying a banner of the tribal organisation ‘Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti’ in order to protest the mining activities on Niyamgiri hills. They blamed the government for not checking on the Maoists activities and for not providing security to the tribes. The most worrying factor for them is that the government had leased out the hills to Vedanta for bauxite mining. The procession was aimed at getting public support against government’s anti-tribal activities. It was carried out to urge the government to ensure sustainable development of the region while keeping the ecology intact (The Hindu, 2015, September 14).
In 2007, Odisha’s resource-rich Sukinda Valley, in its Jajpur district, was termed as the fourth most polluted place in the world as ranked by the Blacksmith Institute of the US. It is perceived that 70 years of heavy tapping of mineral resources from open cast mines in the area has led to the degradation of the natural resources of the valley beyond repair. Disposing of waste has severely contaminated water bodies, polluted the soil with toxic substances, wiped forests out and laid farms to waste. People living in the proximity of the mines consume the toxic water and inhale carcinogenic chrome dust. Skin diseases, gastroenteritis and diabetes have become common across the valley. The Brahmani, Odisha’s second-largest river that runs through Sukinda Valley, is the state’s most polluted river because of the excessive hexavalent chromium exposure. The forest cover in the Damodar Valley coalfield, once 65 per cent, stands at only 0.05 per cent today (Sahu, 2015 June 5).
Ravindra Pratap Singh, Assistant Professor, Department of Geology, Delhi University, talks about his experiences in the Sukinda Valley region of Bhadra district, Odisha while working in this area. He says, ‘the region contributes more than 97 per cent chromite production of the country. Boon and curse are two sides of the same coin—this area has enormous mineral wealth but is today amongst the worst polluted areas of India. The natural conditions force the inhabitants to be dependent on surface water only, but the large scale mining activities with about 20 open cast and two underground chromite mines (though the mines other than chromite are not included) are not allowing the water to take its natural course. Numerous widespread pits can be observed all over the mining area along with associated dump-mounds. Both these anthropogenic morphological features have ruined the natural surface water flow.’
Regarding recuperation from the destruction caused by mining, Neelam Verma, Research Fellow, Department of Geology, Delhi University, says, ‘We all know there is always a hope of repose after a severe storm but we should also not neglect the fact that we can recover but not regain. So, we should be working with the mind-set of an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.’
As far as measures taken to curb the damage are concerned, Singh says ‘the regulatory bodies like Indian Bureau of Mines or state authorities are structured for keeping an eye on the mining activities and the environmental impacts under the regulations started from Mining Act, 1952 to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006. The National Water Policy, 2012, bound the mining companies to establish an effluent treatment plant to treat waste water along with a proper surface water management plan. However, the implementation of these regulations are still awaited. Thus, despite the effort put in by the government to make mining sustainable, loopholes in the implementation segment impair progress on the environment front.’
Mining sector has wreaked havoc in the lives of the indigenous people. It is imperative that a holistic approach is taken towards development that is more inclusive in nature. Insisting on the fact pertaining to fair distribution of profits to the locals and curbing of the widespread fast-paced destruction of the resources, Rebbapragada says ‘it is vital that mining happens but where, when and who the benefit goes to is an issue. The first thing we need to do is to stop all the illegal mining in the country because it funds mafias. If this state of affairs continues unabated, expect the depletion that happened in 120 years of mining history, to happen in just about 20 years. The extent of depletion of resources would be too much. We have to think of the future generations in the light of increased resource extraction. We need to think that do we want to bequeath empty lands devoid of resources to our future?’
Forest Survey of India. (2015). Forests and tree resources in states and union territories: State of Forest Report 2015. Retrieved from http://fsi.nic.in/isfr-2015/isfr-2015-forest-and-tree-resources-in-states-and-union-territories.pdf
Ministry of Mines, Government of India. (2015). Annual Report 2015-2016. Retrieved from http://www.mines.nic.in/writereaddata/UploadFile/Mines_AR_2015-16_English.pdf.
Sahoo, S. (2005). Tribal displacement and human rights violations in Orissa. Social Action: A Quarterly Review of Social Trends, 55(2).
Sahu, P.R. (2015, June 5). Odisha’s story about pollution, mining and the environment. Hindustan Times. Retrieved from http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/odisha-s-story-about-pollution-mining-and-the-environment/story-Y3t9TxTCqh3M8EBGhmBfXL.html.
Sarkar, U.D. (2015). Pauperised by development. Geography and You, 2015(88), pp35-39.
Singh, M.R. (2015). Mining and its impact on tribals in India: Socio-Economic and Environmental Risks. International Journal of Social Science and Humanities Research, 3(2), pp429-439.
UNDP. (2008). Status report: land rights and ownership in Orissa. India: United Nations Development Programme.
The Hindu. (2015, September 14). Tribals oppose bauxite mining. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/tribals-oppose-bauxite-mining/article7649731.ece.