Orissa Governor releases CSE's national report on mining and environment

India’s richest lands – with minerals, forests, wildlife, 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 -- its 356-page 6th State of India’s Environment Report, titled Rich Lands, Poor People - Is Sustainable Mining Possible? 

The first national release of the report took place in the mineral-rich state of Orissa today by the Governor of Orissa, M C Bhandare.

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 the policy reform that is essential to practice more ‘sustainable’ mining.

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 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.

Orissa, for instance, accounts for 7 per cent of India’s forests and 11 per cent of its surface water resources -- it also holds 24 per cent of India’s coal, 98 per cent of its chromite and 51 per cent of its bauxite. Mineral industries are, naturally, flocking to the state. But for all its mineral wealth, the state performs very poorly in terms of human development indicators. The state has a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.404 -- worse than that of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh or West Bengal. The CSE report points out that “Orissa’s per capita income has actually declined during the second half of the 1990s -- precisely the period when the state went on an industrial overdrive”.

All the mineral-rich districts of the state feature in the list of 150 most backward districts of the country, says the report. In Keonjhar, the most mined district in the state, 62 per cent of the population lives below poverty line. In Koraput, the bauxite capital of India, 79 per cent live below poverty line. “Statistics indicate that the income from mineral extraction rarely benefits the regions from where these minerals come -- in fact, poverty is increasing in many of these districts,” point out the writers of the report.

Bearing the brunt: environment and people

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.
  • 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.
  • Mining of major minerals generated about 1.84 billion tonne of waste in 2006 - most of which has not been disposed off properly.

Orissa has the dubious distinction of clearing the maximum amount of forest land for mining in the country: of total forest land cleared for mining in India, Orissa accounts for 17 per cent. The state’s water resources are as stressed, contrary to the belief that Orissa is water-surplus. The state’s hilly terrains, with their natural springs, are being destroyed by mining, contends the CSE report. Orissa’s second largest river, the Brahmani, is one of the 10 most polluted rivers in India -- “due to the large-scale mining operations on its banks”. The state’s 6 million strong tribal population has borne the brunt of these environmental impacts: mining, says CSE, has displaced about 500,000 people (mostly tribals) in the state.

Employment is a promise not kept

All governments justify mining arguing that the sector will provide employment, but this is a chimera. The report using government data shows how employment has fallen in the mining sector as a whole. The fact is that the modern mining industry does not require people. Between 1999 and 2005, the value of mineral production in the state increased three-fold – at the same time, employment reduced by 20 per cent. In fact, says, Chandra Bhushan, CSE’s associate director and the coordinator and co-author of the report, “Modern industrial growth requires resources of the region — minerals, water or energy. It does not require people. In other words, it does not necessarily provide local benefits. If it provides employment benefits, it is outside the poor region in which it is based. In other words, inclusive growth will require ways to value local resources — be it water, minerals or energy — so that it gives back more than it takes. The mineral industry degrades the land, uses local water, but does little to return back 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”.