Mining Riches, Burying Faces

(Mining) Tales Stones Tell

The mining sector in India consists of two main segments - Major Minerals (iron ore, bauxite, etc.) and Minor Minerals (such as stones). The labor force that works in the area of Major Minerals is controlled by the central government. It is, therefore, well organized, in a way that there are pay commissions and special laws that govern its functioning. The Minor Mineral mining sector, on the other hand, is spread across the country. In the case of Major Minerals, it is concentrated significantly in the North of India and few areas in the South. Stone quarries are treated as minor mines and left under the control of the state government. It is treated as a small-scale industry and understood to be 'labor-intensive'. There are no specific laws that address the concerns of workers in the stone quarry sector.

Quarries have typically been a business that involves caste and community. On a social level, there are particular communities that depend on the quarry for a source of survival. Ethnic communities like Oddar, Vadars and Od have been involved in occupations related to digging earth, carrying sand, and breaking stones for many years. In 1993, the Central Government created a national policy for each state to follow the State Mineral Policy, in the backdrop of an increase in global demand for minerals. This led to the widespread use of machinery in mining, and the gradual inflow of socio-economically weaker communities, such as the tribal.

By Bastu Rege - To be Continued >>

EIA: An Efficient Tool?

The history of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) begins from the Notification of 1994. In fact, it was introduced with the sincere intention to protect the environment as intended in the Environment Protection Program 1986. EIA requires companies involved in mining to report possible impact of any such activities that are detrimental to environment. These companies also have to propose activities to minimise the possible impact or damages to the environment.

The Terms of Reference (ToR) are set by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) that sits in Delhi. The standardization of the Terms of Reference is carried out, and based on the ToR supplied, the project proponent engages a consultant expert.

The preparation of the EIA is done on behalf, and for, the company. This is an interesting aspect of EIA where the consultant, sponsored by the project proponent, is expected to do full justice to the study by giving a factual picture of the existing local scenario, which would set the base for deciding the fate of the project. Obviously, the outcome, in the name of EIA is a document that systematically, either conceals or compiles false information/data. Generally, it is a ‘cut-and-paste’ document.

EIA, by no means, helps put a halt to illegal mining. On the contrary, it has been encouraging illegal mining by helping conceal vital facts.

By Ramesh Gauns - To be Continued >>

Unhealthy Practice of Negligence

Although mining is a 2000-year-old profession, the government has only focused on revenue till date, and not the people who bring that revenue, or the environment that is destroyed in the process. I have been working on this issue for more than a decade now, since the year 1997. My focus has been the unorganised mine workers engaged in the extraction of minor minerals in the state of Rajasthan.

One of the major struggles with the system is tackling Occupational Health and diseases. Long exposure to dust particles easily reduces a worker’s life expectancy by ten years, and notified occupational diseases like asbestosis, silicosis, and silica-tuberculosis, are common among the labourers. These workers are also invariably denied compensation by their employers. We have been working on Occupational Health ever since we lost one of our community members to asbestosis. It was then we realized that most mine workers have no identity proof and employment proof since they are part of the large unorganized sector. After carefully researching the situation we decided to file a case with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for those who had died of silicosis, an occupational disease. However, with asbestosis our struggle is ongoing, since the National Institute of Occupational Health, in spite of repeatedly medically examining former asbestos mine workers, are yet to disclose the reports. Since 2007, twenty one of the former asbestos workers have died waiting for their medical reports.

By Rana Sengupta - To be Continued >> 

Litigation Matters

Concerns with respect to adverse impact due to mining has for long been limited only to environmental groups. Of late however, the issue of mining in India, is also seen as an activity which threatens the very democratic fabric of the nation. The ‘opening’ up of the mining sector to private companies have added a new layer to the existing tiers of problems viz., increased corruption, scuttling of peoples’ voice and the control of governmental institutions by the mining giants.  India’s mining affected communities are fighting back. Using a combination of grassroots mobilization techniques, public awareness and litigation, local communities with the support of NGOs and others, have been able to challenge some of the largest mining companies in the world.

The beginning of India’s public interest litigation (PILs) on environment began with the Doon mining case in the Supreme Court in the early 1980’s. Over the years, a series of cases were filed in various courts including the Supreme Court. One of the most successful cases was the Supreme Court’s decision to stop mining by Kudremukh Iron Ore Company (KIOCL).  Over the last few years, the arena has shifted to specialized environmental courts such as the erstwhile National Environment Appellate Authority and now, the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

By Ritwick Dutta  - To be Continued >>