Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Should a moratorium be imposed on all fresh mining in tribal areas of the country?

- By Nishi Tigga (Student of

“The hill is our god and the earth our Goddess. Between the two, we have the rains and water. Those wanting to mine here will slowly take over all this. Where will we go then?”
This is very a simple question of Dongria Kondh man from Lakpaddar, Niyamgiri Hills but do we have answer to this question?

Scientist all over the world believe that the world exists because nature adheres to the principles of symbiotic relation.  A symbiotic relationship as defined by the ecologists is a relationship between two entities and which is mutually beneficial for the participants of the relationship. If one of them suffers the other is bound to get affected by it. Don’t we see   the principle of symbiosis between the tribals and the forests? Will they not be subject to   destruction if they are separated from each other suddenly?

History of tribals dates back to where history of India starts. The first Five year Plan for 1951 to 1956 had a positive policy for assisting the tribals. The first  plan  clearly  mentioned that  we have to assist the  tribals to  develop  their  natural  resources  and  to  evoke  a  productive economic life wherein they will enjoy the fruits of their own labour and will not be exploited by more organized economic forces from outside. But after 66 years of independence have we been able to keep our promises or have we become the very reason threatening the very aspect of their existence?

The mining projects both by government and private sectors since independence have displaced about 60 million tribals. This has   resulted in landlessness, joblessness, homelessness, marginalization, food insecurity, increased morbidity and mortality, loss to access to common property resources, social disarticulation, differential risk identities and risks to also host population. Mining displaced thousands of people from their traditional sources of sustenance. One can imagine the plight of innocent people whose communities were shattered along with their meager sources of livelihood as a consequence of their forced displacement under mega irrigation, mining, industrial or infrastructure projects. The infrastructure projects though increases productivity and production to a great extent, are not unmixed blessings. They give rise to involuntary displacement thereby creating untold miseries for the ousted as has been experienced in the completed and ongoing projects.

The mining industry's growth is inextricably linked to environmental and human right violations.  Several million adivasis and dalits have already been evicted to accommodate mines and related industries, and several more have been impacted due to land degradation and environmental imbalances caused by mining.  Mining has destroyed the water balance in drought-prone states like Orissa, Gujarat and Rajasthan.  In areas like Kashipur, Orissa, new mining projects threaten indigenous populations and forests in the watershed that are critical in replenishing the fresh water resources of the country.  In other areas such as in the coal mines of Jharkhand or the mica mines of Southern Andhra Pradesh, mining has polluted the air and water over vast areas leading to a noticeable decline in the health of people living there

We have many examples in our country that describes the unbroken history of broken promises. Jharkhand is one of   state where tribals have been the worst affected. On 15 November 2000, when Jharkhand came into being, a long standing demand for separate statehood was fulfilled, not merely to establish a distinct identity but also to do away with the centuries of injustice. “Development” for the sake of urban lifestyle became synonymous to up-rooting poor Tribals from their traditional land and lifestyle.  The political-corporate nexus became active to grab the Tribals’ land, minerals, and other resources became apparent when over 42 MOUs were signed soon after the state was formed. Reports of Indian People’s Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights indicate that a total number of 6.54 million people have so far been displaced in Jharkhand in the name of development.

A similar situation exists in Chhattisgarh as well. Seven percent of the country’s bauxite, about 198 million tones, is available in the Sarguja, Jashpur, Kawardha, Kanker and Bastar districts. It is being mined at present in Sarguja by the now privatized Sterlite and the Hindalco companies. Hundreds of adivasi families have lost their lands. In the name of employment one person from the affected family were employed as lowly paid contract labor. Discontent is rife among these landless adivasi miners. Sixteen percent of the country’s coal (39,545 million tons) is to be found in the Raigarh, Sarguja, Koriya and Korba districts of northern Chhattisgarh. In 2007, the adivasis of Khamariya Village, raising objections to giving up their lands to the Jindal Coal Mines, were beaten up during in a public hearing arranged by the district administration.

In Madhya Pradesh the foundations of illegal mining operations are laid down by benami land deals. In the Satpura Forest Range of the Betul district, illegal mining operations are carried out on patta lands given to tribal people for farming under the Forest Rights Act. It has been reported that families of high profile politicians own many mining companies that carry out illegal operations in mineral rich areas like Sehore and Betul.  Similar illegal mining operations are rampant in Andhra Pradesh also. The bauxite mining in the Araku Valley has been going on in the lands of small tribal farmers. In many cases the Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation acted as a front for private companies and took over lands of small farmers.

Throughout India, Adivasis have become increasingly conscious and have organized dozens of grassroots movements to oppose further land-grabs and displacement and they have been asking only one question as to whose country is it anyway? Can stakeholder agreements and promises to share mining profits with Adivasi communities help settle these conflicts?  The Indian Supreme Court on 18 April 2013 rejected an appeal to allow the company to mine the Niyamgiri Hills. Instead, it has said that local tribal councils themselves should decide within the next three months whether or not the project should go ahead. This certainly is a landmark victory in recognizing indigenous rights in India but the final result has yet to come.

Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh Sunday mooted 20-year moratorium on mining in tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh. The Union Development Minister also strongly believed that unregulated mining have resulted to Maoist problem.  We cannot deny this fact that in the recent past we have seen an extreme growth in the number of Maoists. Mining sector has proved to be devastating for tribal but we cannot deny the fact that India’s mining industry is an increasingly important part of the economy, employing hundreds of thousands of people and contributing to broader economic growth. Roughly 70% of India’s power generation currently comes from coal. As India's economy shows signs of slowing, mining remains one of the bright spots on its horizon. India is the world's third largest producer of coal and the fourth largest of iron ore. Its mining industry is predicted to grow to $36.2bn by 2016.The geological survey of India estimates that the country has around 277 billion tons of coal reserves and the consumption of coal is expected to increase by around 1500 million tons per year by 2031.

It is impossible to close down mines but the best possible solution is to take a middle path and impose moratoriums on fresh mining in the tribal areas. These moratoriums can be used to stop mining in India’s forests until proper environmental and social assessments are carried out. Millions of people in India live near or within forests, and rely on them for their livelihoods. According to the Centre for Science and Environment around 26000 hectares of forested land have been diverted for coal mining since 2007. Any new mine will also need the infrastructure around it, including power plants, roads and rail – requiring even more land. Therefore keeping the present conditions of mining sector in mind moratoriums in fresh mining areas is one of the way out   to deal with these issues. Moratorium on developmental projects in tribal territories, will prevent land acquisition and displacement of tribal communities. The moratorium period can be also used as a transition phase where a particular tribal society is first developed by providing them basic need like school; hospital road facility connecting them to cities; good and healthy living conditions. The government could also start various skill development program in the village. The government should actively put more meaningful governance in place for the whole sector.

The government should conduct a study and demarcate those areas only where mining can be done in a sustainable manner and auction it to the highest bidder. The government should recover money that has been lost from the illegal mining carried out all over the country. The government should take necessary action against those who have violated the law by terminating all leases and making up for loss suffered by the State. A positive step towards safeguarding tribals’ rights is the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill, 2011. The Bill has been prepared after several rounds of consultation and workshop with all Stakeholders .It seeks a complete and holistic reform in the mining sector with provisions to address issues relating to sustainable mining and local area development, benefit sharing mechanism to the people affected by mining operations.

Mining firms in India employ hundreds of thousands of people and are seen as a center of rapid economic growth. But mining can be a uniquely destructive industry if it is not properly regulated. Irresponsibly run mining operations can damage health, environment and livelihoods of the same local residents who are meant to benefit from mining. Every level of social structure is damaged when a mine or metals factory takes over indigenous people’s  land, their ecologically-attuned economy, strongly egalitarian power structure, material culture and cultivation systems based on self-sufficiency, and an identity based on rootedness to the land that often seems very hard for non-tribals. Imposing moratorium in fresh mining areas will definitely give them some relief.   Indian Government should take the condition of the tribal seriously. Let’s not mine them out of existence but stretch our   helping hands and save them   and their culture which they have preserved from times immemorial.

“Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.”

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