Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mining vs Communities

The opposition to mines and mining across the mineral rich belt of India is not a blind opposition to modernization, or an opportunistic posturing for getting a better deal. It is based on the dreadful experience of people with past projects. People left without land or livelihood, broken job promises, polluted earth, air, and water – all of this is public knowledge in the mineral belt. It is this knowledge that is behind the resolve of the communities against letting in mining into their homelands.
Take Korba district of Chhattisgarh for example. Half the mineral related revenues of mineral rich Chattisgarh come from this tribal majority (51%) district. Over 11% of India’s coal is mined here, most of it by a subsidiary of CIL. Taking advantage of the proximity to the mines, there are four thermal power plants located here, generating 3650 MW of electricity. Korba gives a lot to the country.
What do the people of Korba get in return?

The Chhattisgarh Human Development Report (2005) records that less than 50% of the households in Korba district had electricity. 20% of the villages in the district complained of respiratory diseases caused by fly ash from the thermal power plants. Huge open fly ash ponds dot the Korba landscape. The wind blows ash particles from NTPC’s large pond, which is located at a height, into villages and fields lower down. The impact of mining ranges from coal dust from coal handling plants covering the agricultural fields and affecting the yield adversely, to pollution of surface water leading to negative effects on the health of people and agriculture as well as degradation of forests. Korba holds a mirror to the ugly face of mining in India. A Google satellite image of Korba shows up the fly ash ponds as white patches on the landscape.

Take another example. NDMC, a public sector company, is India’s largest iron ore producer. Over 80% of its production is from the Bailadila hills (named so, as the hills resemble the hump of an ox) in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. 78% of the population of Dantewada is tribal. Here in Chhattisgarh’s tribal heartland, nature in all its forms - trees, waterfalls, and streams - is revered and venerated. The forests help sustain livelihoods as agriculture, where practical, is limited to a single crop. The mining has resulted in the destruction of the forests, and people report that one third of the forest area of Dantewada is degraded. The groundwater level has fallen. The Bailadila hills show up as an ugly brown gash amidst the green jungles in satellite images.

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For people who strongly depend on forest produce, natural streams, and ground water for their livelihood, the devastating impact on their quality of life can only be imagined.
If the new draft mining regulation is aimed at changing the attitude of communities towards mining, it may be missing the point entirely.Read the complete story here.

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