Mining in India: development versus the environment
“In bureaucratic system obedience to power and self-goals have pushed self-consciousness and uprightness into darkness.”
These words, written by a forest department official in his retirement letter were in response to the mining controversy that has brought the state of Haryana under scrutiny for indiscriminate mining policies. Following a stern report by the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court, the state of Haryana (which neighbours Punjab), has finally stepped up towards stopping the unsustainable mining in the Aravalli range. The Supreme court has ordered a ban on all mining activities in the region.
But is this a little too late? Despite the lapse of a seven year lease that had ravaged the range, and a Supreme Court labelling the area as a prohibited mining zone, the Haryana government proceeded to auction two quarries in the area earlier this month. The Forest Survey of India made satellite imagery available to the public that clearly documents the land change: water bodies in the area have dried up and the region is suffering severe droughts. According to this article, local people have said that not only have nearby lakes dried up in the space of three months but also that large scale sand mining was taking place, “damaging the water retention capacity” leaving few traces of the lake and “truck marks all around”. There are clearly bureaucratic loopholes aplenty, allowing the culpability to bounce from the irrigation department to fisheries to mining. The unchecked mining also played an important role in decreasing the ground water level.
The mining groups argue that the high demand for construction is forcing them to look beyond the outer limits of the national capital and to mine indiscriminately, bringing to the fore once again the often used argument of the perceived conflictual nature of development and environmental sustainability in India.
The Centre for Science and Environment recently released a report detailing the “environmental and social footprints of mining in India”. In it, it highlights the sheer lack of regulation in mining that has spawned a booming illegal trade, adversely affecting the environment and not allowing for any recourse to legal aid by the people who work in the mines or live in the surrounding areas. The states tend to turn a blind eye because of the profits and the overall ‘development’ that ensues.
Unsustainable mining practices are rampant all over India. Parts of Karnataka that have witnessed unsustainable mining now suffer from a host of problems: from a lack of access to water, to unsafe and illegal labour conditions, health problems, environmental devastation and pollution. Orissa is another good example. The already palpable pressure on land will only get more severe, and although the government has brought out a national biodiversity plan which lays out best practice guidelines, Indian authorities need to really take control of biodiversity conservation and land change, step up initiatives to protect the natural habitat, and soon. A sustainable approach would of course require addressing the issues mentioned before: the problems of EIAs , inclusion of participatory methods, introduction of regulation and importantly better accountability of those in public service and positions of power.
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