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The 356-page Sixth State of India's Environment Report, titled 'Rich Lands, Poor People -- Is Sustainable Mining Possible?', underlines the need to revamp government policies so that mining does not happen at the cost of the environment or people's livelihoods

The Sixth State of India's Environment Report disputes the notion that mining is essential for "growth or employment" and shows that some of the least developed and most polluted regions of the country are mining hotspots. It recommends that mining must not be allowed without the consent of the people. Also, if the environmental and social costs outweigh the economic gains.

Existing environmental regulations in India do not account for the kind of mining that is being carried out in Goa , for instance, in the backyards of people's homes, farms and forests. The law is weak, the miners are strong, and the result is pollution that is devastating people's lives and destroying forests and waterbodies in the state, says this latest publication from the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

The 356-page Sixth State of India 's Environment Report, titled ' Rich Lands , Poor People -- Is Sustainable Mining Possible?', underlines the need to revamp government policies so that mining does not happen at the cost of the environment or people's livelihoods.

The report, recently released by Goa Governor S C Jamir, in Panaji, has a chapter on the magnitude of the mining challenge in Goa . 'With less than 0.1% of the geographical area of the country, this state already has 8% of its land area under mine leases, and produces 15% of the country's iron ore,' says the report.

It further warns that if all applications for leases, in various stages of processing, are cleared, as much as one-fourth of the state will be under mining. "This, in the current poor regulatory framework, is a sure recipe for disaster as it will destroy forests and waterbodies and, most importantly, the farms and homesteads of the people," says Sunita Narain, Director, CSE.

'Rich Lands, Poor People' details the issue of mining in various states of the country, its impact on the environment and people, and policy reforms that are essential to practise more 'sustainable' mining. In the national context, the report contends that mining in India has, contrary to the government's claims, done little for the development of mineral-bearing regions of the country.

Speaking at the release function, Chandra Bhushan, Associate Director of the CSE and one of the report's authors, said: "The biggest irony is that India 's richest lands -- with minerals, forests, wildlife and water sources -- are home to its poorest people... Mining has not benefited people; instead, it has impoverished local environments and displaced people."

The report says:

  • Between 1950 and 1991, mining displaced around 2.6 million people, of whom barely 25% have been rehabilitated. About 52% of the displaced were tribals.
  • For every 1% that mining contributes to India 's GDP it displaces three to four times more people than all 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 0.16 million hectares of forest land has already been diverted for mining in the country. Iron ore mining in India used up 77 million tonnes of water in 2005-06, enough to meet the daily water needs of more than 3 million people.
  • Mining of major minerals generated around 1.84 billion tonnes of waste in just one year (2006), most of which has not been disposed of properly.

"Mining is being promoted in the country for the wrong reason -- employment. All state governments justify mining arguing that the sector will provide employment, but this is a chimera. The formal mining industry in India employs just 5.6 lakh people and this number is coming down," says Narain.

The CSE report uses the 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%.

In fact, Chandra Bhushan says, "Modern industrial growth requires the 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 the wealth. Worse, the royalty on minerals goes to state exchequers not to local communities. This will have to change."

Take the case of Goa and iron ore. The price of ore has increased, and the state's mining industry has been making a killing -- driven by the demand from China . In 2003-04, the sector's turnover was Rs 830 crore, but the royalty that the state received was as little as Rs 17 crore -- less than 1% of the state's revenue came from mining.

"In Goa , private miners are making windfall profits but the government and the people are seeing none of it. We need a change in the structure of royalty so that people directly benefit," says Narain.

This is particularly important, as existing national regulations for managing the environmental fallout of mining are weak; in the context of Goa, non-existent. Forest clearance procedures require any mining beyond five hectares of lease area to be cleared by the state government, and beyond 50 hectares by the central government. But there are many catches here.

First, many mines in Goa have less than this stipulated area. Secondly, most mines are not in what is technically classified as 'forest area' but in communidade land or private land and therefore can slip through the cracks. Thirdly, there is no provision that takes into account the importance of forests in people's lives and livelihoods -- the destruction to local forests that results in local problems, of local streams getting silted up, or local farms being devastated. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests can, under existing procedures, simply agree to open mines in the backyards of people's homes without any safeguards.

What's more, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process is flawed. Under clearance procedures, a public hearing is essential. But there is not a single case, the CSE report says, where government regulators have rejected mines when the people have said 'No'. In fact, in most cases, renewal of mining leases has become a mere formality. No cases are filed by the state pollution control board where mining does not meet regulations. This suggests a complete breakdown of oversight procedures, essential for 'sustainable' mining.

It is no wonder then that people in Goa are taking to the streets to protest against the mines that threaten their survival. Goa is also the only state where the high court has directed companies to compensate losses incurred by farmers because of the silting of their fields and pollution of water courses, says the report.

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. Chandra Bhushan says: "The issue is not whether mining should be undertaken or not. Rather, it is about how and where 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 recognising people's right to say 'No' (mining should not take place without the consent of the people); independent, impartial preparation of EIA reports; a moratorium on mining in biodiverse and locally important forests; codifying of mining best practices; framing stronger mine closure regulations; and "doing more with less -- a key to sustainable development".

InfoChange News & Features, February 2008