We wish it did’nt too. But the fact is,
India's richest mineral-bearing regions are
those which hold its lushest forests, along
with its poorest people. Any efforts to extract
minerals from these lands, therefore, results
in a complete upheaval in the lives of
millions of Arvind Tuppos…
But to understand their stories better, one must gauge the
actual scale of mining activites that are currently on in full
swing in India.
Today, India produces as many as 89 minerals: 4 fuel, 11
metallic, 52 non-metallic industrial and 22 minor minerals.
The metallic production includes iron-ore, copper-ore,
chromite and/or zinc concentrates, gold, manganese ore,
bauxite, and lead concentrates. Amongst the non-metallic
minerals, more than 90 per cent of the aggregate value is
shared by limestone, magnesite, dolomite, barytes, kaolin,
gypsum, apatite and phosphorite, steatite and fluorite.
There are 2970 reporting mines (excluding atomic
minerals, petroleum (crude), natural gas (utilised) and minor
minerals) as of 2005-06.
India is the world’s largest producer of mica blocks and
mica splitting. It ranks third in production of coal and lignite,
barytes and chromite, fourth in iron ore, sixth in bauxite and manganese ore, tenth in aluminium and eleventh in crude
steel in the world.
India is literally a mine of treasure!
Mining forms the bedrock of industrial development, and
boosts the economy. The total value of mineral production,
in 2000-2001, was Rs 5,68,070 million.
But this development has come at a cost.
Currently, the total land (including forests) leased out for
mining (for coal, metallic and non-metallic minerals) in the
country stands at 7,54,861.23hectares. So, not only forest
tracts, (like Arvind Tuppo’s homeground), but agricultural
lands, too, are converted for mining.
But what difference does an area of 0.75 million ha
make for a country like India that spreads across 328.7
million ha? Well, in India with the second biggest
population in the world, land is at a premium. Almost all
land in India supports livelihoods. Even the ‘waste lands’
support local communities (mostly the poorest) in some way
or the other.
In this scenario, diverting even 0.2 per cent of the
country’s land for mining, translates to displacing millions of
I have already told you how the advent of mining affects the
lives of tribal families like Arvind’s. Similarly, when
agricultural land is converted for mining, it changes the lives
of the farmers forever. This is how it happens…
The cement industry is developing at a rapid pace in
states like Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. This has
forced the agricultural communities to move away from
their traditional lifestyles. Thousands of rice farmers have
now become contract labourers in these cement plants. The
rehabilitation packages offered to them can hardly make up
for the trauma of a total disruption of livelihood.
Ecologically, the shift has equally shattering repercussions.
Land that could have sustained farming for many years gets
converted into deep quarries.
Each stage of the mining cycle — from exploration to
mine closure — has an impact on ecosystems.
This does not only act as a gateway to the mineral rich land,
but it also increases the access of future mining projects to
ecologically sensitive areas.
This step involves removal of earth, rocks and soil, and the
standing vegetation along with the biomass and nutrients it
contains. This disrupts the ecological balance of the area,
and leaves the land vulnerable to the forces of nature to act
upon it. Soil erosion caused by wind and water is just one
face of it.
There are two processes of mining — open cast and
underground. Open cast mining is the removal of the
topsoil, earth, rock, and other materials (called overburden)-
-to gain access to the ore seam, which is drilled or blasted
for mineral extraction. This destroys vegetation, soil and
habitat completely. And in underground mining tunnels,
are dug directly to reach the mineral ore. This makes the
land void. And when the rock overburden can no longer be
supported, deep cracks open up. Eventually the surface
collapses, which causes extensive damage to agricultural
land, buildings and transport networks.
This happens after all the digging has been done.
Internationally, experience with mine closure has been poor and mining companies have left behind ‘ugly footprints’ —
ghost towns, gigantic craters and waste-choked waterways
— for governments and local communities to deal with.
Mines that are to be closed should be filled with sand (sand
flushing) and grouted with cement to
stabilise the underground voids. But this
does not happen. For instance, on paper,
Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), in
Jharkhand, has filled mines with some
50 million tonnes (MT) of sand. But
insiders say that less than one-fourth of
this amount may have actually reached
the pits. The outcome is major accidents
like the one that occurred on September
10, 1995, when the walls of a mine
collapsed after being weakened by fires.
More than 60 miners lost their lives in the mishap.
The result is obvious: environment degradation
and waste generation.
Yes, apart from directly wrecking the
environment, mining creates a mammoth
problem — waste.