Governor Gopal Gandhi releases CSE's latest study on mining, people and environment in Kolkata

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 Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the governor of West Bengal. The release was followed by a panel discussion; the panelists included writer and activist Mahasweta Devi, former director of the Dhanbad-based Indian School of Mines S P Banerjee, chairperson of Coal India Ltd Parthasarathy Ghosh, and CSE director Sunita Narain.

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. Keeping in mind the criticality of the subject, CSE has planned a series of nation-wide releases of the report. The Kolkata release function was the second in this series.

Rich lands made poor"

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 Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand 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.

The report goes on to point out that of the top 50 mineral-producing districts in the country, almost half are tribal. The average forest cover in these districts is 28 per cent, much more than the national average of 20.9 per cent.

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. For instance, the forests in Bardhaman have been decimated by mining. 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 is the main culprit: every tonne of coal extracted generates 3-4 tonne of wastes.

“The result of this large-scale ravaging of natural resources is emerging in the form of growing conflicts in India’s mining zones,” says Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s associate director and lead writer of the report. A large part of these zones is in the grip of Naxalism: 40 per cent of the mineral-rich districts in the top six mineral-producing states are affected by the movement, which is opposing the lopsided ‘development’ mining brings in.

West Bengal has had its share of the misery. Mining occupies only 0.13 per cent of the total land area in the state, but it is the 10th highest contributor to the net state domestic product. The CSE report says that coal mining in the state has had severe impacts ranging from land subsidence and degradation to health problems related to air pollution, destruction of water resources and displacement of people. “The two districts in West Bengal that have the highest concentration of mining -- Bankura and Purulia -- also have highest area under barren and wastelands, 4,047 ha and 5,038 ha respectively,” says the report. According to a study by Walter Fernandes on development-induced displacement in West Bengal, between 1947 and 2000, 70 lakh people had been adversely affected by projects of which about 55 per cent, or 39 lakh, were physically displaced. Out of these, only three lakh people were resettled by the project agencies and the remaining more than 92 per cent had to fend for themselves.

Poor people made poorer"

Mining is being promoted in the country for the wrong reason -- employment. All state governments -- including that of West Bengal -- 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.

Take the case of coal mining in West Bengal, says the report. The state’s production of coal increased by 32 per cent from 1990 to 2003-04 but the average number of people employed daily in coal mines reduced by 32.68 per cent. In fact, says Chandra Bhushan, “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 recognizing 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”.