India’s Faulty Mining Policy

Pradeep Kumar Panda Contributor
Economist, New Delhi
This article was published in the 35th issue of Enviro Annotations
  
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 thousands of illegal unorganised mines, which can be as small as twentieth portion of a hectare. However, most of these minerals will last for merely 50 to 100 year at the current rate of production.

There is no doubt that mining is essential for development. However, mining by nature, destroys 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.

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 dusts are 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 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 impervious ground etc., should be codified and made mandatory. Currently, no regulatory standards exist for containing the impact of mining, especially relevant to water.  

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.

The critical issues of displacement and rehabilitation are quite in the forefront when it comes to mining and mineral-based industrialisation, especially where large scale mechanised 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 recognise 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 recognise 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 share of benefits of mining is envisaged.

The UNICEF estimates that approximately 20% 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% of quarry workers and 40.5% of these women are 5–15 years old.

Mining of different minerals have 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% in making slate pencils, 21% in stone quarries, 38% in agate polishing units and 12% in stone crushing units.

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 utilised for welfare agenda.

The proposed taxation in the new Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation 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 70 years are up in arms. Mining, whether legal or illegal, is always disastrous to 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 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.

1 comment:

  1. There is 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.

    ReplyDelete

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