Besides this mine is being operated within 800 meters from Adhkunwari where from runs the track which leads the pilgrims to actual shrine and if such activity continues, it will prove detrimental to the health of yatris besides the mine in question is in itself hazardous for the hillock and the shrine on it as there are possibilities of soil erosion and large-scale landslides.
According to the file notings of Sri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB), revealed as a 2nd appeal RTI reply to Advocate Vilakshana Singh and available with this citizen journalist , the SMVDSB has shown serious concerns about the ill effects of the mining on the yatris but the concerns shown by the shrine board have not been addressed at all either by J&KMDC or by the J&K state Govt.
As per information provided by SMVDSB, no expert opinion was sought regarding impact of mining over the “Shrine.” Even in April this year, SMVDSB had addressed a letter to Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), Union of India requesting MoEF to consider taking steps to address the likelihood of any adverse environmental impact on the yatra in particular and ecology in general.
The fears allayed by the Shrine Board, as are evident from the file notings, are on account of the fact that actual mining site is just 2.9 kms from the actual shrine and just 800 mts from Adkuvari. And because the mining is an open cast one, the Dust-fall, which is calculated to be equal to 2 Mt/sq km/month may adversely affect the health of the yatris. This would over a period of time lead to a decline of yatra, which had crossed 1 crore mark last year and is likely to be more than that this year as already 85 lack yatris have visited shrine till mid October thereby turning out, by attracting pilgrim tourism, to be a major source of livelihood for the major populace of the Jammu province.
And from the file notings, it also transpires that the shrine board has very little control over the whole thing, as the state government seems to call the shots. And if it is so, especially when the land used by the miner (i.e., J&K Mineral Development Corporation Ltd, for short- J&KMDC) is under shrine Board as is evident from the fact that the net asset value is being given to the shrine board. And given the smallest leeway such as PIL filed lately (which was incidentally dismissed later) the shrine board has withdrawn from the project which becomes clear when they had returned the 2.3 crore draft back to J&KMDC paid by the later on account of estimate on falling of trees, afforestation and net present value of land used.
Despite these reservations implicitly expressed by the shrine board, the state government rather than understanding the insignificance of the mining has been fighting for its continuity.
Now the question arises as to why government is not addressing the concerns of the shrine board. Whereas on the one hand government is trying to silence the shrine board by paying net asset value to it which should have otherwise gone to the forest department, as per guidelines of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India because land used falls in the forest category. On the other hand, government is trying to sideline the shrine board in the vital decision making process by keeping it in dark on other issues.
Questions also arise that if National Mineral Development Corporation Ltd (NMDC) had during the mid way of 20 years lease period found the project not viable and had in fact stalled it and called off the activities then how come suddenly government started generating interest in the project and what lease of life and ray of hope did they discover that they activated the Industries department to arrange JKMDC to take over the project and demand lease for 10 years.
The apprehensions, among some observers, are ripe that J&KMDC is playing in the hands of some big-wigs of state government and are conspiring by just playing the mining game just to pass the time till the lease nears expiry date so that then they could hand over the lease to some other party who may, in the long run, open a hotel and hospitality industry on the land already leased out. That is why the J&K government has also been agreed to de-notify a wildlife sanctuary near the temple perhaps to allow expansion of facilities for visiting pilgrims to start with.
Even the CEO of SMVDSB has figured out that the issue has not died down. While talking to this citizen journalist over phone from Srinagar, Navin Kumar Chaudhary informed that the issue is being discussed at appropriate forums. On being asked as to what he was doing to keep the issue alive, the CEO said, “I do not want to speak on this subject”.
However the CEO sounded contradictory when he said that there was no danger to yatra. On being asked that he was contradicting the file notings of his own Board, which were available with this citizen journalist, the CEO of the Shrine Board remained adamant on side tracking the issue. He even was averse to any suggestions in this regard and has an entirely different take on this subject and advised the citizen journalist to approach the Industries Department who were handling this matter.
Notwithstanding all this, if research in this regard is to be believed then it becomes quite evident that the proposed project is also going to cause various health hazards to the residents of Katra, Panthal as well as to around 1 crore people coming from all over the world every year to visit the historical and famous Shakti Peeth Sri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine.
As per the research made by SKAWAHLOOK FIRST NATION- a Canada-based organization on Cogburn Magnesium Project, magnesium has been identified as a major source of hazardous air pollutants including chlorine, hydrochloric acid, Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) such as dioxins and furans and trace amounts of Hazardous Air Polluting Metals including phosphorous and manganese. Prolonged human contacts with these substances have been demonstrated to cause the health problems such as: Damage to the liver, kidney, thyroid, endocrine Glands, immune and nervous systems, Birth Defects, Cancer, Child Growth Retardation, Stunted intellectual function, Decreased survival rates in children, reduced levels of male reproductive hormones, Diabetes.
The proposed plant would also alter the flow of natural water sources and also the problem of water contamination as the report said is beyond control both by disposal of contaminated water and by percolation. Both the contamination and alteration in water flow would have a negative impact on the quality and quantity of water, fish habitat, fish, fishery, wetland, wildlife habitat, wildlife. Even the disposal of solid waste material amounting to about 14.23 Lac Ton per year and is directly affecting the ecology of surrounding areas.
Pertinently after the Ministry of Environment and Forests had given its nod by clearing in November 2011 the J&K Govt’s proposal for setting up of a magnesium plant in the state, division bench of Jammu and Kashmir High Court had earlier in the year passed temporary suspension orders over government’s proposal for mining magnesium deposit because the area is in the vicinity of the shrine and attracts over 1 crore pilgrims every year.
The PIL filed by lawyers Dewaker Sharma and Vilakshan Singhhad challenged the proposed mining on the grounds of environmental, public heath, historical and necessity/ viability of the said project. The petitioners had placed on the record various reports, researches, expert opinions etc so as to strengthen their arguments. The petitioners had highlighted that no expert opinion was ever sought by Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board regarding the impact of mining on the shrine and the flora and fauna of the hill it is situated on. However due to some reasons, other than the merit of the case, the bench later withdrew the stay and dismissed the petition.
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