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Mining Vultures

Updated: July 31, 2010 1:06 pm

Illegal and unregulated mining in Rajasthan has systematically destroyed forests, devastated the Aravallis, played havoc with the water resources of the state and caused environmental hazards, which have resulted in large-scale deaths.

Chief Minister of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot has decided to come down heavily on the illegal-mining mafia in the state. The state government’s decision to set up a task force to check illegal mining is considered to be the first big bold step by the Gehlot government, whose performance so far has not been all that impressive. Illegal mining and crusher plants are thriving near the mines and the state government’s decision to deal with the mine mafia with an iron hand would help in curbing illegal mining, which causes huge losses to the state by way of revenue and also causes environmental hazards.

            Unregulated legal mining and rampant illegal mining in Rajasthan have systematically destroyed forests, devastated the Aravallis, and played havoc with the water resources of the state, but the environmental hazards have resulted in large-scale deaths in the state, particularly in the mineral-rich Bhilwara district in southern Rajasthan. Says Centre for Science and Environment’s Sixth State of India’s Environment report, Rich Lands, Poor People: Is sustainable mining possible?

            Rajasthan has the highest number of mine leases in the country—1,324 leases for major minerals, 10,851 for minor minerals and 19,251 quarry licenses for mining stones. The state earned about Rs 700 crore royalty from major minerals like lead, zinc and limestone. The sector contributes only three per cent to the state’s revenue, but the hazards particularly to the health of the mine workers it create are immense.

            Rajasthan holds reserves for 44 major and 22 minor minerals and is the only producer of garnet, jasper, selenite, wollastonite and zinc concentrates. It is also the leading producer of calcite, lead concentrate, ball clay, fireclay, ochre, phosphorite, silver and steatite. But it is best known for its production of marble, sandstone, and other stones. It produces 10 per cent of the world’s and 70 per cent of India’s output of sandstone. Ajmer, Bhilwara, Bikaner, Dungarpur, Jaipur, Pali, Rajsamand, and Udaipur are its main mining districts.

            Illegal mines have no mechanism in place to implement environmental protection measures. For instance, sandstone quarries may be as small as 200 x 100 feet and employ as few as five to eight people who make Rs 30-50 per day (for men) or Rs 15-30 per day (for women). “Because these mines operate beyond the law, workers’ rights are not recognised. Minimum wages are not paid and basic facilities such as toilets and water do not exist, nor do safety procedures or compensation for accidents,” says the report of Centre for Science & Environmental Studies. In Makrana mines, the marble of which was used for building Taj Mahal and Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial, there is an

average of one death a day. According to the report, there are three deaths every day from work-related illnesses like silicosis and tuberculosis.

            The state government has failed to regulate illegal mining in forest areas. Udaipur, the most forested district of Rajasthan is also the most mined. The government has issued leases for hundreds of mines in Sariska National Park. Despite repeated Supreme Court orders to close them down, mining continues unabated in Sariska and Jamwa Ramgarh sanctuary. This has had a devastating impact on the forest cover of the state.

            Further, Rajasthan continues to dabble with asbestos despite a worldwide ban on the mineral. Rajasthan, which has 54 per cent of India’s asbestos resources, still has five to six operational mines. According to the World Health Organisation, all forms of asbestos cause cancer, with chrysotile asbestos increasing the risk to cancer. This is a major health risk for workers, especially since these illegal mines do not provide safety equipments or compensation in case of accidents or deaths.

            In Rajasthan, extensive mining of sandstone, marble and other minerals has converted the Aravallis into a rocky wasteland. Soil erosion is rampant, natural recharging of groundwater has been affected, and riverbeds have been flooded with coarse sand. This is despite they being notified as an ecologically-sensitive area (ESA) more than a decade ago in 1992.

            Mining in the catchments has also played its part in threatening the region’s water bodies. The limestone mines of Maharana Pratap’s Chittorgarh have breached the region’s water table. Residents of Chittorgarh claim that water could earlier be found at 25 feet, but now the water table has fallen to as low as 400-500 feet. At the same time, marble slurry imposes serious threats to the ecosystem in the state. When dumped on land, it adversely affects productivity due to decreased porosity, water absorption and water percolation. Slurry-dumped

areas cannot support any vegetation and remain degraded. When dried, the fine particles become air-borne and cause severe air pollution. During the rainy season, the slurry is carried away to rivers, drains and local water bodies, affecting the quality of water, reducing storage capacities and damaging aquatic life.

            Chittorgarh city is getting choked due to marble slurry being dumped in Chhatriwali Khan, an abandoned mine since 2004. The area’s groundwater is unfit for drinking and cooking and food cooked in such water literally churns the stomach.

            Mining deaths in the stone quarries of Shriji Ka Kheda, the nondescript village under Banera panchayat samiti in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan, which is the constituemncy of the Union Rural Development Minister CP Joshi, is amazing. In the last eight years, there have been more than 70 deaths due to mining-related diseases. The village now has more widows than the number of households. The place, which was once famous for red sandstone, is now known for mining-deaths. “There are more than 70 widows living with their ill fate in this 60-house village. Most of them have not even crossed 40 years of age. All the deaths are due to silicosis, which is the fallout of mining activities,” says Mangu Kharol, a 60-year-old widow who has lost all her four sons to these quarries. Now the family doesn’t have any male member.


           SATELLITE IMAGERY

ANSWER TO ILLEGAL MINING


A police homeguard was killed and three others seriously injured when he tried to check illegal mining in restricted areas of Aravali hills. Illegal mining of stone quarry is rampant in Bharatpur district. A large number of Gujjars are involved in the illegal mining.

            The Centre has asked all state governments to constitute high-level committees to crack down on illegal mining and intensify the drive against the menace. The Centre is keen to start an action plan to curb illegal mining.

            So far, only nine states—Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan and West Bengal—have constituted committees to address issues such as illegal mining and faster processing of mineral concessions.

            At present, there are not enough legal provisions for Central intervention in illegal mining across the states, while the magnitude of the problem is so great that as many as 42,000 cases were detected in 11 mineral-bearing states last year.

            The Centre has asked the states to report all instances of illegal mining and use satellite imagery to detect such activities. It had also asked for cells to be set up to monitor price trends, as a spurt in prices is usually linked to increased illegal mining activities.

            The Supreme Court banned mining in 157 mines in the Aravalli ranges, in respect of which applications for renewal of lease have been pending with the Rajasthan government. A bench of Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and Justices SH Kapadia and Aftab Alam also ordered satellite imaging of the Aravalli ranges spread over a 50,000-km area in 15 districts. It said the court-appointed Central Empowered Committee on environmental matters and the Rajasthan government would cooperate with the Forest Survey of India in carrying out satellite imaging.

            The Bench said the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) Advisory Council would provide Rs 5 crore for the exercise. Disapproving of subterfuge, the Bench pointed out that under the guise of pending decision on the applications for renewal of the lease, mining was being allowed. Earlier, senior counsel and amicus curiae Harish Salve asked the court to ban all mining activities in the state. He said the Rajasthan government was trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the court by considering only those mountains which were 100 metres or more in height part of the Aravalli ranges. It did not treat shorter hills as part of the ranges.

            Another amicus curiae Ranjit Kumar said the court was concerned with the Aravalli ranges in their entirety and not according to the height of mountains. If mining activity was not stopped immediately, it would lead to devastation, both in terms of its magnitude and impact on ecology, much bigger than what one saw in Haryana. (PB)


Kharol family is not the isolated case. Gyarsi Devi, 55, too has lost her husband, two sons and three brothers-in-law to this deadly disease, which damages the oxygen-taking capacity of lungs. “Now my 18-year-old son is the sole bread-earner. I fear he too will meet the similar fate. He has been experiencing the breathing problems. But we don’t have any means for his treatment,” she said as tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks.

            Bhilwara-based respiratory diseases specialist Dr SN Jagotiya who has attended such cases said that silicosis is a fatal disease. “It’s a lung

disease caused by inhalation of dust containing free crystalline silica. It is irreversible and, moreover, the disease progresses even when exposure stops. Extremely high exposures are associated with much shorter latency and more rapid disease progression,” he said.

            The state government should form a panel of doctors that conduct surveyes of the areas where people suffer from silicosis and draw a plan to specially treat such people. People die of silicosis, but as they bear the disease for five to 10 years, their deaths are reported as natural death which is not correct, said two-time BJP member of Lok Sabha from Bhilwara VP Singh, who is now Rajya Sabha member. Admitting to the widespread deaths in this village, the state minister for forest, environment and mines Ram Lal Jat, who belongs to the Bhilwara district said that silicosis is not the only cause of these deaths. “People here are alcoholic. They live with high incidence of infection due to low resistance power. Since they work in stone quarries, they fell prey to silicosis easily. We are planning to come up with a health-safety policy for mine workers so that the incidences of occupational hazards drop,” he said.


SOME GOOD NEWS


The discovery of petrol, gas and hydrocarbons has ensured that Rajasthan would soon be a frontline state of the country with its revenues booming. Mines and minerals would also help the state in raising its revenue in a state where a lot of money is spent on water and greenery because of its geographical locations. The mines department has been able to raise revenue from Rs 1457 crore as against a target of Rs 1560 crore and revenues from mining would touch Rs 3000 crore soon.

            Estimates are that there are about 64 different kind of major and minor minerals produced in the state besides it being a repository of garnets, jasper and wollastonite, zinc (concentrate), calcite, asbestos and gypsum, ball clay, feldspar, fluorite, kaolin, lead concentrate, ochre, phosphorite, silver, steatite, barytes, copper, quartzite and silica sand.

            A beaming Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot announced in the Vidhan Sabha recently about the discovery of gold in the state. The Australian mining company Indo Gold had discovered gold in Banswara’s Jagpura in southern Rajasthan

            The deposits are world class with the annual yield from the Jagpura mines is estimated to be in the range of eight tonnes. The Chief Minister however did not allow the Australian company to mine the gold and has said that the state-owned Rajasthan State Mines and Minerals Ltd would do the mining of gold in joint venture where RSMML would hold at least 51 per cent share.

            Twenty per cent of the profits from mining in these tribal sub-plan areas would go for the development of the regions and at least 50 per cent of the local populace would be given work.

            The rich deposit of limestone in the region and leading cement companies are planning major expansion, including setting up new plants in the state. In fact, Rajasthan has become most-favoured destination for cement companies as it has deposit of around 21,000 million tonne of limestone out of which around 10,500 million tonne is cement grade mineral. Apart from limestone, which forms the base of cement, the state also has other cement ingredients in abundance like redrocker, China clay, gypsum and silica sand.

            Limestone is found in 25 out of 32 districts in the state with large traces in Chittorgarh, Jaisalmer, Jhunjhunu, Nagaur, Pali, Sikar, Bundi, Jodhpur, Kota and Udaipur.

            According to sources the state government has already received investment proposals worth Rs 10,000 crore from various cement manufacturers. “Leading cement companies like Grasim, Lafarge India, Aditya Cement, Birla Corporation, Shree Cement, JK Cement, Wonder Cement etc have pledged an investment of Rs 10,000 crore in the state. The state can get cement plants worth 20 million tonne per annum in the next three years,” sources informed. When that happens the revenue for the state from the sector is bound to shoot up. (PB)


In Bhilwara district alone over 1.45 lakh persons are working as mine workers producing zinc, sandstone, silica, china clay, mica, soapstone and other minerals. Bijolia which was an active centre during the freedom movement in the state is one of the largest mining areas in the state spread across over 650 sq km area. In Bijolia a large number of people are suffering from mining-related diseases and also diseases related to water.

            “Mining in Banera and Bijolia areas has led to developing of silicosis, a debilitating, irreversible, sometimes fatal disease. The cause of silicosis has been known for centuries, yet people continue to die each and every year of this completely preventable disease,” said Prabhash Choudhri, the patron of Bhilwara’s Khaniz Dhatu Mazdoor Sangh. Choudhry said that silica sand be banned for use in abrasive blasting, and that a substitute material be used. The practice of using sand in abrasive blasting has been outlawed in European countries.


           CURBING EXPLOITATION OF ILLEGAL MINING


The issue of over exploitation of mines and illegal mining has been a major concern of all the mineral rich states of the country. Despite efforts by various state governments, these problems are persisting across the states. A major reason is the indiscriminate export of iron ore and other such minerals. Unless certain curbs are placed on export of iron ore, etc. undue exploitation and illegal mining are likely to continue.

            After the present government took over in Karnataka, we examined this issue and we took the initiative to bring out a Value Added Policy in the mining sector. In this regard, Karnataka was the first state to introduce such a Policy. As per this Policy, put in place in December 2008, the government of Karnataka recommends mining leases only where the applicant demonstrates that there is value addition within Karnataka. In other words, the applicant has to either process the iron ore himself or has to tie up with another local manufacturing processing company in Karnataka.

            This Policy was well received not only by the people of the state, but also by the industrialists and entrepreneurs. In the recent Global Investors Meet held at Bangalore on June 3-4, 2010, several steel companies both multinational

Companies (like Arcelor Mittal & Posco) and national companies (like Essar, Tata Metaliks, etc.) have signed MoUs with the government of Karnataka. Our Value Added Policy

for the mining sector has contributed substantially for such an encouraging response.

            In addition to the Value Added Policy, the present government in Karnataka has also taken several other measures in connection with the mining sector. Some of the important measures are listed below:-

            The practice of issue of bulk permits which were being misused by the miners has now been stopped and specific permits are being issued for each load and trip;

            We have introduced bar coding and hologram based trip sheets in order to improve the tracking of the consignments as well as to avoid permits being faked;

            We have introduced integrated check-posts in several locations of the state to ensure better coordination of various departments like mining, forest, commercial taxes, transport and PWD;

            Government of Karnataka was also one of the States which actively pursued with the Government of India to shift to advalorem mining royalty. With this, revenue from mining has substantially increased from Rs.80 crores per year to around Rs.320 crores per year;

            We have taken a decision to put in place toll plazas in 10 places on the highways of the state with computerised weigh in motion facility, so that there is proper accounting of ore mined and transported. These are expected to be operational during the current year;

            In the last 2 years, i.e. 2008-09 and 2009-10, over 16.45 lakh vehicles were inspected and fines were levied on over 30,400 vehicles. 1,818 cases were booked. Over 6.5 lakh tonnes of iron ores also seized and auctioned;

            We are also proposing to introduce e-Permits in order to ensure further transparency and accountability;

            We have already taken up a project to use high resolution satellite data to detect unauthorised encroachment of mining areas. The Report is likely to be ready in a couple of months.

            A Coordination-cum-Empowered Committee under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary has also been constituted to monitor the implementation of various measures and to resolve issues arising in the mining sector;

Despite our best efforts, the pressure for exporting iron ore continues in a big way. Such unbridled exports of minerals from our country will only lead to loss of precious natural resources. At this rate, in very few years, our country will exhaust all its mineral resources. Unless this is stopped, we will be doing a great dis-service to our future generations.

            In my opinion, it is high time we discontinued such a policy of exporting raw materials, particularly precious natural resources which are not renewable.

            There is an urgent need to put in place a comprehensive policy to ban export of iron ore and to make it mandatory that iron ore and other such precious minerals are utilised for value addition within the country itself.

By BS Yeddyurappa

Excerpts from the letter written by the Chief Minister of Karnataka to the Prime Minister


“The silica sand used in blasting typically fractures into fine particles and becomes airborne. The worker then inhales the silica which becomes imbedded in the lungs. Most sandblasters continue to work without adequate respiratory protection, and workers near the sandblaster frequently wear no protection at all.

            “Once the silica particles enter the lungs and become trapped, the lung tissue scares and forms nodules. As the condition worsens, the nodules become progressively larger. The nodules make breathing increasingly difficult, eventually causing the worker to die from suffocation. The symptoms of silicosis include shortness of breath, fever, and difficulty breathing with physical exertion,” added Choudhry.

 By Prakash Bhandari

 

 

 

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