Minor Minerals Need Major ‘Mindmining’ in India
Source: Toxics Link Website, Date: , 2010
About a year back Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India constituted a group to look into the environmental aspect of mining of minor minerals in India. The group, headed by Secretary, E&F submitted its report on the environmental aspects of quarrying minor minerals in India (as mandated to the group via the terms of reference vide ministry’s Order No: Z-11012/3/2009–IA.II (M), 24th March, 2009). 2010 March, the group submitted its seventeen-pager report.
It is important to understand why mining of minor minerals should be considered afresh in the present context; because while the world is busy talking climate change and global warming, there are some anthropogenic actions on ground that are playing great havoc and need immediate attention to prevent several irreversible envirosocial damages.
The Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 defines in its Section 3 Clause (e) building stones, ordinary clay and sand, gravels, boulders, shingle, lime shell, kankar, brick-earth, road metal, ret-mitti, marbles and some non precious stones etc. as minerals as ‘minor’ minerals. The definition of minerals as minor depends upon their end use. For example, sand, if used for making ceramics or used as stowing material in coalmines or for metallurgical purposes, will not be termed as minor mineral (who sees in Indian context where and what for the mineral is used for?). In fact the bracketed query is important because the extent of quarrying and series of ecological consequences that follow depend on the end use of minerals.
A mineral is a naturally occurring solid having definite chemical composition and structure. In nature they are not abundant and thus cost us more. However, as the use of our so-called ‘minor’ minerals is increasing in leaps and bounds (already value-wise they constitute over 10% of the total mineral production in India) the definition for sure needs to be re-examined by the Mining ministry and it is right time to introduce it in the draft MMDR Act 2010.
The groups’ recommendation to redefine major/minor mineral definition is a welcome step.
The aforesaid terms of reference of the ministry mandate the group to a) consider and integrate environment aspect into minor mining; b) integrate impact measures specifically with respect to water bodies and c) prepare model guidelines. The major considerations or pushes are Environment Impact Assessment Notification (EIAN) 2006 that brings minor minerals mining in over 5ha land under its ambit and several adverse consequences reported in recent times in connection to environmental performance of these mining activities. The overall consent for the group was to profess guidelines for ‘sustainable’ mining.
Sustainable mining; is this possible in India? Because sustainable mining would mean faster and better replenishment strategy and constantly moving towards using locally available material for construction and other minor mineral related activities. Minerals are product of thousands of years of natural processing so cant be reverted, human rehabilitation is a growing problem, impact of unscrupulous mining as negative environmental externalities growing, mounting pressure on the supply side of these minerals, the human health issues etc are the factors, which seems would never allow the mining in India sustainable. Sustainability can come only through ecologically stricter and human centric (and not business/ industry maneuvered) policies and enforcement.
In matters related to environment and ecology our actions are seldom composite and comprehensive. In fact the understanding in the government about environment is still the same- trees, tigers, water, air and possibly natural recourses. The system completely ducks human angle. In the case of minor mineral mining too the human angle, especially the health considerations are completely missing in the group’s report possibly because the ministry did not mandate these issues on the group.
The group considered following nine issues and made recommendations on – a) definition of minor minerals; b) size of mine lease; c) period of lease d) approach to EIAs; e) Mine planning; f) corpus for reclamation and rehabilitation; g) depth of mining; h) concession rule and I) river bed mining. Let us examine them one by one:
Size of mining lease
EIAN 2006 mandates compulsory assessment of project beyond 5ha. Since most states in India do not have minimax cap on mining, the trade goes unabated. The group recommends it to have 5ha as minimum for the providing lease. Maximum is not specified which should actually be. The good point is every project will now be EIAed but the question is why 5ha? Instead the recommendation could be, make the minimum lease size as small as possible and include every prospective mine into the EIA notification via amendment. We can then have specific ranges of mining lease based on states, minerals and their demand and the assessment/ monitoring policies can be build around them. Further, the EIA process should include issues beyond local externalities.
The Group recommends standardizing the lease period to 5 years (blanketed), which again seems favoring industry. States mostly have lease policy of 1 year and only for costlier mining such as graphite it’s a multiyear lease arrangement. The recommendation for standardizing lease period across states and minerals is supposedly based on investment and environment exploitation criteria, which is meaningless. In fact in some areas it may mean getting only the big players, continuation of obsolete technologies, long-term exploitation of ecology and labor and so on and so forth. The regime should be such that it gives level playing field, state and mineral specific and encourage technological leapfrog.
Cluster mine approach for monitoring
Instead of having environment plan and assessment separately for each small mine the group recommends cluster approach. It is fine as far as the size goes. The problem however is if in a cluster there are different kinds of mining (mineral, technology, labor force etc) how uniformity can be maintained. EIA processes have to be different in such cases. Further, as recommended 5ha area is big enough an area to be independently EIAed.
Group’s recommendation for mandatory mining plan and provision for rehabilitation etc in line with the major mineral mining plan is a welcome step. This needs to be strictly enforced to make better case for EIA.
Corpus for reclamation / rehabilitation
Quarrying in organized sector involves about 1.3 million heads and their families. Minor mining is mostly unorganized sector and thus a 30-40% labour strength would mean 0.5 million workers and their families. Hence health issues (which is completely missing from the report) should be talked about. While creation of corpus with polluter’s pay principal is welcome, the major proportion of the contribution should be of industry. Moreover, the health issues must be added to the charter in addition to rehabilitation and reclamation. The responsibilities should primarily stay with the mining party.
Depth of mining and river bed mining
The group has dealt the issues separately. While depth is talked in terms of ground water pollution, riverbed-mining recommendations mention no specific reason except advising no mining in safety zones such as near bridges. Again it seems, no comprehensive thought has been given while making recommendation on depth of mining and riverbed mining. In fact some times it is the topsoil mining (brick industry), which is important. What about leases of agricultural fields for brick kilns? Here again we missed the human angle. The level of oxygen drops below certain level into the earth and makes mining difficult humanly. Now in case of a low cost deep mining, would the laws be framed similar to major mining?
Riverbeds and shores are ecologically important. Sand mining is a direct and obvious cause of erosion, and also impacts the local wildlife. For example, sea turtles depend on sandy beaches for their nesting; and sand mining has led to the near extinction of ghariyals in India. Manipulation of underwater and coastal sand causes disturbance aquatic ecology, which is harmful for such organisms as corals that need sunlight. It also destroys fisheries, causing problems for people who rely on fishing for their livelihoods. Mining have reduced sediment delivery from rivers to many coastal regions, resulting in erosion.
All these considerations have been ducked while the group recommends on riverbed mining.
Environmental issues concerning minor mining can include erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals. In 1992 a Draft Code of Conduct for Transnational Corporations was proposed at the Rio Earth Summit by the UN Centre for Transnational Corporations (UNCTC), but the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) together with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) argued successfully for self-regulation instead. This was followed up by the Global Mining Initiative, which created of the International Council on Mining and Metals, an industry organization which works to self-regulate the mining industry internationally.
The mining sector, whether abroad or here is still thoroughly dominated by the industry and seldom respect the common law of ethics (and statutory regulation are quite lax and enforcement is still worse). This becomes worse when we consider the case of minor mining, which is fully unorganized sector. Imagine half a million workers and their families suffering from diseases like silicosis, asthma, emphysema, thyroid problems, skin disorders, other respiratory problems that can translate into genetic problems and carried through generations; without a redress mechanism and planning. Back in the Philippines, a small country having about 4000 mines there is great concern regardingoccupational health and safety issues.
Then there is the question of alternative livelihood and continuous ecological exploitation. We have not addressed the issues comprehensively. The working group has for sure missed the opportunity to provide roadmap to sustainable small mining.
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