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Published : Jul 16, 2010 00:00 IST


G. Janardhana Reddy, mining baron and Karnataka's Minister for Tourism and Infrastructure.-G.R.N. SOMASHEKAR

G. Janardhana Reddy, mining baron and Karnataka's Minister for Tourism and Infrastructure.-G.R.N. SOMASHEKAR

THE Indian Bureau of Mines, in its Indian Minerals Yearbook2005, notes that Chhattisgarh has 28 different types of minerals, with coal and iron ore being the most abundant. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), in its comprehensive book Rich Lands, Poor People: Is Sustainable' Mining Possible?, says that around 16 per cent of India's coal reserves, 10 per cent of its iron-ore reserves, 5 per cent of its limestone deposits, 5 per cent of its bauxite, and 88 per cent of its tin reserves lie in Chhattisgarh. One-third of the country's diamond deposits, too, are in the State.

It is no surprise then to see that international mining companies such as Vedanta and Jindal Steel are making a beeline for the State. Significantly, a Vedanta hoarding says Mining happiness'. But the reality seems to be far from it. People's movements against the mining companies have been gaining strength in the State in the last few years. The State is a hotbed of naxalism, with the extremists organising people against mining activities. Ramanna, a Maoist leader, has said that his organisation will intensify its armed struggle until the State government nullifies the 102-odd MoUs with mining and steel companies.

The reason for the widespread protests is not far to seek. The mineral-rich areas of the State lie in dense forests that have been home to its tribal population for centuries. Around 90,000 hectares is already under mining for major minerals and coal. The topmost mining districts in the State are Korba, Surguja, Raigarh and Durg, with mostly employment-intensive public sector mining. But ever since the Central government relaxed its rules to allow 100 per cent foreign direct investment in mining in 2006, thousands of tribal people in the mineral-rich northern and southern Chhattisgarh had to leave their forest homes where they had lived for years.

The first serious attack on tribal sovereignty was in December 2001. When Sterlite, the subsidiary of the Vedanta group, took over Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd (BALCO)'s shares from the government, the employees of the company moved the Supreme Court to stop the privatisation, saying that it violated the Samata judgment as the land was under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. (In the Samata judgment, the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 1997 protected tribal people's lands against indiscriminate mining that is not approved by the local people.) However, the case was dismissed. The court reversed the Samata judgment saying that the judiciary would be transgressing into the field of policy decisions and further said that the application of the law in Chhattisgarh was not the same as in Andhra Pradesh.

Large-scale land acquisition will have its fallout. As much as 31 per cent of the total population of Chhattisgarh belongs to the Scheduled Tribes. In Dantewada, tribal people account for 79 per cent of the population; they constitute 55 and 44 per cent respectively of the populations of Surguja and Koriya, two other districts that are attractive for mining. Since only 36 per cent of the total land in these areas is under cultivation, the rest of the area are up for grabs and it is the tribal people who depend on forest resources who face the brunt. These districts have very low human development indices. Malnutrition is very high in these areas.

The Bailadila hill range in Dantewada is rich in iron ore. Since 1961, the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) has been mining these deposits. Consequent industrialisation in the area has left the forest cover depleted and local waterbodies such as the Shankhini and Dankini rivers contaminated. A remote sensing study conducted by the Madhya Pradesh Council for Science and Technology in 1997 found that iron-ore mining had endangered the flora and fauna of the area drastically. It also found that if mining activities were to continue, there would be irreversible denudation of the forest and it would affect the livelihood of the people there.

Essar Steel won the mining licence for the Bailadila deposits after the NMDC lease expired. This led to huge protests as the local population had not benefited at all after years of mining.

Similarly, in the Bastar region, the NMDC has transferred its licence to set up a steel plant to Essar. Local people are opposing this too.

There have been violent clashes between the police and the tribal people in the Lohandiguda region of Bastar against Tata Iron & Steel Company (TISCO), which is planning a Rs.1,000-crore steel plant in the area. A survey by the CSE says that the land in question (2,000 hectares), belonging to 10 villages in Lohandiguda, is a Fifth Schedule area and one of the few places in the country where wild buffaloes and the tribal culture of the Maria Gond survive. Most of the land that is to be acquired by the State for facilitating the private company here are cultivable lands and even the ruling BJP legislators are opposed to any such move.

Another controversy is brewing in Dhurli and Bhansi, two villages in the naxalite hotbed of Dantewada district in the southern Bastar region. In June 2005, Essar Steel signed an MoU with the State government to bring in an investment of Rs.7,000 crore here.

The State also has large deposits of diamonds in the Mainpur region, which is beset with illegal mining. Most of the farmers who mine diamonds from the Kimberlite stones are paid not more than Rs.100 a day by the illegal mine owners, who sell the diamonds for huge sums to traders in Mumbai (Maharashtra) and Gujarat. The State government has plans to stop this and take up large-scale mining here.

Another issue of environmental importance is limestone mining for the large number of cement plants in the State. The fact-finding mission by a team from Environics Trust to various cement plants in the Durg-Raipur-Bilaspur (central Chhattisgarh) region in the second week of June brought out many revealing facts.

Its report says, There are nine major cement plants located in Chhattisgarh between Durg and Bilaspur. There are 13 cement plants proposed in the region, out of which environment clearance has been given for five plants despite severe villagers' protests, and land acquisition has started. Kolkata-based Imami Cement has proposed to set up its plant with an investment of Rs.16 billion with a capacity of 4.05 million tonnes, and has identified 406 hectares of land, while Jindal Steel has applied for 80.90 hectares. Shree Cements Ltd has proposed a plant in Simradhi village of capacity 5.2 million tonnes with clinker production of another 3.0 million tonnes. Monnet Cement, part of Monnet Ispat & Energy conglomerate, has proposed to set up a three-million tonne cement plant in Chhattisgarh, close to its existing sponge iron and steel melting facilities in Raipur, with a total investment of Rs.1,400 crore.

It adds, The facility will use limestone from 220 MT mine that has been allotted to the company by the State government. Besides, ash and slag generated from its existing and upcoming units in the State will also be used as basic feed for the cement plant.

All these factories and mines have been set up on the promise of material wealth, direct/indirect employment opportunities, modern amenities, and better health and educational facilities for the local population. But the reality is that the open-cast mines are causing serious environmental damages and there is little benefit to the people in terms of jobs. Blasting is done daily to break the rocks into transportable sizes. Limestone is transported to the plant using either huge dumpers or conveyor belts, depending on the distance between the plant and the mine, the report says. It says uncontrolled blasting has cracked the walls of several houses, which makes them vulnerable during the rains.

The State government has been saying that most of these mines and factories were set up officially after public hearings. But journalists and activists note that they are all a sham; not even 1 per cent of the population in the affected area attends these hearings. The hearings are mostly done without proper notice or are conducted at a place far from the actual site so that people fail to reach there.

But most of all, mining has not improved the lot of the people. About 40.5 per cent (official figures) of the people are still below the poverty line. Of the seven key mining districts in the State, Dantewada and Bastar are among the most backward districts in the country. They have no facility for even safe drinking water.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jul 16, 2010.)



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