Bangalore, Karnataka, August 4, 2008: 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.
It has, in fact, triggered severe environmental and social consequences: 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?
“Take the case of Bellary in Karnataka, the hub of the state’s iron mining sector. Uncontrolled mining has devastated the region’s agriculture, increased air and water pollution, and destroyed forests. Human health has been a casualty as well, a victim of the pathetic working conditions – the area has high incidence of lung infections, heart ailments and cancer. While on one hand the place lays claim to having the largest collection of private aircrafts in the country, it also suffers from acute poverty on the other,” said Sunita Narain, director, CSE, speaking at the release function.
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 the reputation and the promise of using knowledge for change. Extensively researched and richly illustrated, Rich Lands, Poor People details the issues of mining in different states of the country, impacts on environment and people, and policy reforms that are essential to practice more ‘sustainable’ mining.
Narain said: “The report acquires added significance in the light of the recommendations of the National Mineral Policy-2008 (NMP) – in fact, the report’s analysis and conclusions discount what the policy recommends.”
“Based as it is on unrealistic assumptions, the NMP fails to take into consideration the social and environmental problems happening due to mining. It is bound to promote large-scale exploitative mining and will, therefore, exacerbate conflict – something which the CSE report cautions about,” she added.
Rich land, ravaged land
The CSE report finds that “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”. Mining in India, therefore (it says), is bound to severely impact the land and the people – as is exemplified by most Indian states, including Karnataka.
The 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.
The report quotes extensively from the Karnataka government’s publications to make its point. One of these is the state government’s 2006 Human Development Report, which says that in Karnataka, forests in the Western Ghats and the Bellary-Hospet area bear minerals. Between 1980 and 2005, around 7,558 hectare (ha) of forest land in Karnataka was diverted for mining activities – this was about 8 per cent of the total forest land diverted for mining in India.
Another Karnataka government publication quoted by the CSE report – the State of Environment Report 2003 – has pointed out that 38 per cent of the mine leases in Chitradurga, 66 per cent in Bellary and 96 per cent in Chikmagalur are in forest areas.
Bellary, in fact, is one of the most severely affected areas. Karnataka has the largest reserves of high-grade iron ore in India – most of which is in Bellary. Fuelled by international – especially Chinese – demand, the district witnessed a three-fold jump in iron ore production in the period 2001-06.
Bellary’s bane has been its rampant illegal mining, says the report. “These mines are responsible for some of the most egregious violations of labour and environmental laws, including child labour and failure to manage waste or soil erosion,” the report points out.
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 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.”
Take the case of Karnataka. While the value of minerals produced in the state has continuously increased over the years, revenues from mining has remained a bare 0.7-0.8 per cent of the state’s total revenues. Moreover, illegal mining has been a huge drain on the state exchequer –Karnataka lost an estimated Rs 3,000 crore to it between 2004 and 2006. In comparison, the government’s royalty from iron ore in 2005 was a paltry Rs 80 crore.
So what is the NMP-2008 talking about?
In this context, CSE contends that the NMP-2008’s assumption that mineral development makes substantial contribution to regional and peripheral development of the mining areas, is not based on available facts. “In fact, the earlier NMP-1993 had clearly stated that the contribution of mineral development to the development of mining areas has not always been commensurate with the huge investment in large mining projects. This fact stands true even after 15 years. Of the 50 top mining districts of the country, 70 per cent still fall under the category of ‘most backward districts’. In most of these districts, there is huge discontent against the mining industry,” says Bhushan.
CSE also disagrees with the policy’s contention that “a miner shall leave the mining area in better ecological shape than he found it”. Says Bhushan: “This is a scientifically wrong and technologically impossible dream of the government. Nowhere in the world can a miner claim that he has improved the ecological value of an area after mining it for decades, after removing and destroying all top soil, after finishing off the ecologically rich habitat, after flattening the mountain and after leaving a big void in the earth filled with water and overburden dumps covered with trees. In India, majority of miners ‘dig and run’ leaving behind ‘orphaned mines’.”
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”.
With specific reference to Karnataka, CSE has called for a complete ban on illegal mining in the state. The Centre also stressed on accountability: miners, especially in regions like Bellary, must pay for rebuilding and rehabilitation. “Also, the state and the local community should get the benefits from mining. The sector has become a stronghold of private players, and is being tapped for private – not public – good. This must change,” said Narain.