India’s richest lands – with minerals, forests, wildlife and water
sources – are home to its poorest people. Mining in India has, contrary to government’s claims, done little for the development of the mineral-bearing regions of the country: says the latest publication from New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) – its 356-page 6th State of India’s Environment Report, titled Rich Lands, Poor People -- Is Sustainable Mining Possible?
The report was released here today by Syed Sibtey Razi, the governor of the mineral-rich state of Jharkhand. The release was followed by a panel discussion by experts.
CSE’s ‘State of India’s Environment’ reports have been widely acknowledged as the most comprehensive and authoritative series of publications on the subject of environment and development in India. The report on mining lives up to that reputation and the promise. Extensively researched and richly illustrated, Rich Lands, Poor People details the issues of mining in different states of the country – including Jharkhand – the impacts on environment and people, and policy reforms that are essential to practice more ‘sustainable’ mining.
Keeping in mind the criticality of the subject, CSE has planned a series of nation-wide releases of the report. The Jharkhand release function was the fourth in this series.
Rich lands, poor people “If India’s forests, mineral-bearing areas, regions of tribal habitation and watersheds are all mapped together, they will overlay one another on almost the same areas,” said Sunita Narain, director, CSE, speaking at the release function. The CSE report echoes her: “The three tribal-dominated states of Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh are the most productive mineral-bearing states as well; also, the forest cover in these states is far higher than the national average,” it says.
Jharkhand, for instance, accounts for 9 per cent of India’s forests – it also holds 29 per cent of India’s coal and 14 per cent of its iron ore reserves. The percentage of area under forest cover in all the mining districts, barring Dhanbad and Bokaro, is more than 20 per cent. Mineral industries are flocking to the state, lured by the state government’s sops.
But for all its mineral wealth, the state performs very poorly in terms of human development indicators. Almost 44 per cent of Jharkhand’s population is below poverty line. Jharkhand, in fact, has the second highest number of poor people (after Orissa) in the country. The state also has a very high percentage of households without food sufficiency. Only 50 per cent of Jharkhand’s people have access to safe drinking water; and just half the population is literate.
It is, therefore, not surprising that 86 per cent of the state’s districts feature in the list of 150 most backward districts of the nation. Except Dhanbad and Ranchi, all the mineral producing districts of the state are in the list.
Bearing the brunt: people and environment
The CSE report paints a horrific picture of the devastation that has been wrought by mining in the country. The statistics are shocking:
• Between 1950 and 1991, mining displaced about 2.6 million people – not even 25 per cent of these displaced have been rehabilitated. About 52 per cent of these displaced were tribals.
• For every 1 per cent that mining contributes to India’s GDP, it displaces 3-4 times more people than all the development projects put together.
• Forest land diversion for mining has been going up. So has water use and air pollution in the mining hotspots. An estimated 1.64 lakh hectare of forest land has already been diverted for mining in the country. Iron ore mining in India used up 77 million tonne of water in 2005-06, enough to meet the daily water needs of more than 3 million people.
• Mining of major minerals generated about 1.84 billion tonne of waste in 2006 – most of which has not been disposed off properly. Coal mining has been the chief culprit: every tonne of coal extracted generates 3-4 tonne of wastes.
In Jharkhand, rampant mining has turned large tracts of forests into wasteland. According to the Union ministry of environment and forests, between 1985-2004, more than 9,000 hectare of forest land had been diverted for mining in the state. This was approximately 10 per cent of the total forest land diverted for mining in India – and this did not include the thousands of hectares diverted by the coal mining sector!
Naturally, Jharkhand’s people, who include the fifth highest concentration of forest-dwellers and tribals in the country, have been badly hit. It is estimated that 55 per cent of the people displaced due to mining in the state are tribals. Says the CSE report: “The very people for whom Jharkhand was ostensibly created are now being sacrificed in the name of their own state’s development.”
Mining and ‘development’
“Mining is being promoted in the country for the wrong reason – employment. All state governments justify mining arguing that the sector will provide employment, but this is a chimera. The formal mining industry in India employs just 5.6 lakh people and this number is coming down,” says Narain.
The CSE report uses government’s own data to show how employment has fallen in the mining sector as a whole. It says the modern mining industry does not require people. Between 1991 and 2004, the value of mineral production in India increased four-fold – at the same time, employment plummeted by 30 per cent.
In fact, says Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s associate director and one of the writers of the report: “Modern industrial growth requires resources of the region — minerals, water or energy. It does not require people. Neither does it necessarily provide local benefits. If it provides employment benefits, it is outside the poor region in which it is based. It degrades the land and uses up local water, but does little to return back the wealth. Worse, the royalty on minerals goes to state exchequers, not to local communities. This will have to change.”
Is sustainable mining possible? The CSE report points out that mining cannot be sustainable or truly environment-friendly: one, because all ore bodies are finite and non-renewable and two, because even the best managed mines leave “environmental footprints”. But it also concedes that mining and minerals are necessary. Adds Chandra Bhushan “The issue is not whether mining should be undertaken or not. Rather, it is about how it should be undertaken. It is about ensuring that mining is conducted in an environmentally and socially acceptable manner.”
The report goes on to recommend a range of policy initiatives that could help India meet this challenge. Some of its main recommendations include recognising people’s right to say ‘no’ (mining should not take place without the consent of the people); independent, impartial preparation of EIA reports; disallowing mining in forests; framing stronger mine closure regulations; and “doing more with less – a key to sustainable development”.