CSE's Environment Report Released in Visakhapatnam
Srinivas Ganjivarapu | 08 Apr 2008

India’s richest lands – with minerals, forests, wildlife and 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 late

 Rich Lands, Poor People-Is Sustainable Mining Possible?

  CSE’s latest study on mining, people and environment in India, released in Vishakhapatnam

  • New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment’s (CSE) 6th State of India’s Environment report highlights the environmental and social footprints of mining in India
  • The Report asks: Why are people who live on such rich lands so poor?
  • Disputes the contention that mining is essential for ‘growth or employment’. Its data shows that some of the least developed and most polluted regions of the country are mining hotspots.
  • Recommends that mining must not be allowed without the consent of the people and if the environmental and social costs outweigh its economic gains.

Vishakhapatnam, April 8, 2008: India’s richest lands – with minerals, forests, wildlife and 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 (CSE) -- its 356-page 6th State of India’s Environment Report, titled Rich Lands, Poor People -- Is Sustainable Mining Possible?

 The report was released here today by Dr. E A S Sarma, former secretary, Government of India and convenor of the Forum for Better Vishakha. The release was followed by a panel discussion organized by Samata. The participants included Mr. Chandra Bhushan, Associate Director, CSE and lead author of the report; Ravi Rebbapragadda, Executive Director, Samata & CPI(M) District Secretary Ch.Narasingarao

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 policy reforms that are essential to practice more ‘sustainable’ mining.

The Vishakhapatnam release function which was the fifth in the series, holds great significance to the region whose fragile eco-system and forest-coastal communities are threatened by new largescale private mining proposals.

Rich lands made poor
“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 Chandra Bhushan, speaking at the release function. The CSE report echoes him: “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. 

The report goes on to point out that, of the top 50 mineral-producing districts in the country, almost half are tribal. The average forest cover in these districts is 28 per cent, much more than the national average of 20.9 per cent.

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. About 52 per cent of these displaced were tribals.
  • 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. An estimated 1.64 lakh hectare of forest land has already been diverted for mining in the country. For instance, the forests in Bardhaman have been decimated by mining. Iron ore mining in India used up 77 million tonne of water in 2005-06, enough to meet the daily water needs of more than 3 million people.
  • Mining of major minerals generated about 1.84 billion tonnes of waste in 2006 -- most of which has not been disposed off properly. Coal is the main culprit: every tonne of coal extracted generates 3-4 tonnes of wastes.

“The result of this large-scale ravaging of natural resources is emerging in the form of growing conflicts in India’s mining zones,” says Chandra Bhushan. A large part of these zones is in the grip of Naxalism: 40 per cent of the mineral-rich districts in the top six mineral-producing states are affected by the movement, which is opposing the lopsided ‘development’ mining brings in.

The case of Andhra Pradesh

Andhra Pradesh accounts for 96 per cent of India’s barytes, 40 per cent of its limestone and 30 per cent of its bauxite – and is heavily mined. About 16 per cent of India’s mines are in Andhra Pradesh. About 2,06,250 hectares (ha) of the state is covered under mining leases. Nellore, Kurnul, Nalgonda, Kadapa and Guntur feature among the top mining districts.

Forests have been the natural victims. As per the statistics available for 1980-2005, Andhra Pradesh diverted more than 13,000 ha of forest land for mining – this was the third largest diversion for mining in the country during this period, after Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

 Not surprisingly, the state has been a hotbed of mining-induced conflicts -- says the CSE report – beginning with the 10-year struggle of Nimmalapadu, spearheaded by Samata. People are also up in arms over a proposed uranium mining project in Nalgonda and bauxite mining initiatives across the state, including in Vishakhapatnam. In fact, the report points out, Andhra Pradesh’s “zest for bauxite can spell doom for the hills and water bodies of the Eastern Ghats”. 

Understanding these implications, Samata’s massive campaign “ Health of the Hills is the Wealth of the plains” covering  21 reservoirs in four districts of north coastal AP activated farmers and urban populations to campaign for safeguarding water for agriculture and domestic needs and forced almost all political parties to take cognizance of the crisis of water for life. This exposed the proposed diversion of large quantities of water for proposed bauxite projects which was raised in the municipal corporation. 98% of people testified against the proposed jindal refinery at Boddavara and very strong protests at the proposed Ras Al Khayma refinery at Makavaripalem apart from the issue of APMDC acting as a front for the private companies to extract mineral wealth in violation of the Fifth Schedule and Samatha Judgement (AIR 1997, SC 3297). The issue remains to be seen if the three stages of the project – mining /refinery and smelter will be established keeping in view the paucity of water and electricity apart from destruction of the beautiful tourist locations in the Anatagiri and Araku valley including the pre historic limestone Borra caves . This book’s data reflects the voices of the communities and civil society in Visakhapatnam who are raising critical questions about the sustainability of mining in the region.  

 Poor people made poorer

Says Chandra Bhushan: “Mining is being promoted in the country for the wrong reason -- employment. All state governments -- including that of Andhra Pradesh -- justify mining arguing that the sector will provide employment, but this is a chimera. The formal mining industry in India employs just 5.6% people and this number is coming down.” 

The CSE report uses government’s own data to show how employment has fallen in the mining sector as a whole. It says the modern mining industry does not require people. Between 1991 and 2004, the value of mineral production in India increased four-fold – at the same time, employment plummeted by 30 per cent.  

In fact, says Chandra Bhushan, “Modern industrial growth requires resources of the region — minerals, water or energy. It does not require people. Neither does it necessarily provide local benefits. If it provides employment benefits, it is outside the poor region in which it is based. It degrades the land and uses up local water, but does little to return back the 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”.