On December 29,2016, Lalmatia mines of Eastern Coalfields Ltd. in Jharkhand, there was a cave-in of an open cast mine. 23 workers were buried , and their dead bodies were recovered. This is one of the country’s worst mining disasters in recent times in terms of casualties as well as in terms of the size of the slide .The accident took place when a mountain of earth formed by the overburden dug out in the open cast mine caved in .According to the Director general of Mines safety(DGMS), the management of Eastern Coalfields Ltd , despite the clear signs like cracks developing and getting wider, did not remove workers and equipment out of bounds. This is an example of how mining can be a disaster to human beings working there.
Minerals are raw materials for a number of important industries. They are non-renewable natural resources. The extraction of minerals from nature is called mining. Mining often affects the environment adversely. Therefore , mining has to be done keeping into view the overall objectives of economic development and environmental preservation .The mining sector in
India employs more than one million workers. The main minerals produced in India are , Bauxite , Chromite ,
Limestone , Coal and Copper ore. Iron
Mining affects environment in four ways:
4.Health and Safety
Air: Surface mines may produce dust from blasting operations and haul roads. Many coal mines release Methane, a greenhouse gas. Smelter operations with insufficient safeguards in place have the potential to pollute the air with heavy metals , sulphur dioxide , and other pollutants.
Water: Mining throws Sulphide containing minerals in air ,where they oxidise and react with water to form Sulphuric acid .This impacts ground water , both from the surface and underground mines.
Land: The movement of rocks due to mining activities and overburden impacts land severely, as happened in Jharkhand recently. These impacts may be temporary where the mining company returns the rock and the overburden to the pit from which they were extracted.
Health and Safety: Underground mining is hazarduous because of poor
ventilation and visibility and the danger of rock falls .The greatest health risks arise from dust , which may lead to respiratory problems , and from exposure to radiation , where applicable.
Since 1973, seven mining disasters have taken place in India.In February 2001, 30 miners lost their lives in Bagdigi mines in Bihar .Every year , many mine workers lose their lives in mining accidents in India .Widespread illegal mining in government and private mines accentuates the problem.Mine sites which are no longer in use are also a major environmental challenge.
The historical and ongoing conflict between mining and conserving environmental resources will continue to exist in future as India’s forests, mineral bearing areas , major river watersheds, tribal habitat regions and most backward regions overlap significantly in the of Orissa , Chhattisgarh ,Jharkhand , Madhya Pradesh , Maharashtra , Rajasthan .
Among regulators in the sector,Indian Bureau of Mines(IBM) has the mandate to play a proactive role in minimising adverse impacts of mining on the environment by undertaking environmental assessment studies on a regional basis.
Under the environmental regulatory regime ,undertaking mine level Environment Impact Assessment(IEA) and formulating management plans (EMP) are mandatory for seeking Environmental Clearance(EC).Under EIA Notification 2006, mining projects that have a lease area more than 50ha in size are classified under category A and need EC from National Level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority , created with MOEF in Government of India. Mining projects that have a lease area between 5ha to 50 ha are classified as Category B projects and require EC from SEIAA created with respective Department of Environment in the State Government. Mine leases smaller than 5ha in size are not covered under the EC process initiated by EIA Notification ,2006.Majority of mines that have lease areas less than 5ha and do not fall within the purview of EIA Notification , 2006, though their data is not available , especially in the minor mineral sector. Illegal mining that continues unchecked also adds to the number of mines that operate without prior environmental and social assessment and appraisal by appropriate authorities.
The following mining regulations provide for environmental protection by integrating it as part of mining plans:
1.Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation)Act , 1957. Section 4A provides for powers to terminate lease holdings in case found detrimental to environment due to mine operations. Section 18 provides for ensuring environmental protection along with mineral development.
2.Mineral Concession Rules 1960:Section 22(5) states that mining plan shall incorporate environmental assessment and management.
3.Mineral Conservation and Development Rules , 1988:Chapter 5 covers the environmental protection issues comprehensively.
State Minor Mineral Concession Rules stipulate environmental protection as basic and minimum requirement for quarry license issuance and operations.
Significantly , the mining regulations cover all mines that operate legally unlike environmental regulations which do not cover mines less than 5ha in size. However , lack of enforcement of mining sector regulations have rendered the above provisions in different mining regulations ineffective and notional in terms of management of environmental and social impacts.
In Uttar Pradesh, unfortunately , mining department is allegedly involved in encouraging illegal mining , so much that High Court on July 28,2016 ordered for a CBI probe into alleged illegal mining in the state, including the role of government officials in facilitating the same . The case of suspension and subsequent revocation of suspension of an IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal in September , 2013 was also connected with her efforts to stop illegal mining .There was largescale illegal sand mining in the Hindon and Yamuna river banks in Gautam Buddh Nagar. This was responsible for soil erosion and changing the natural flow of Hindon and Yamuna which shifted its course by about 500 metres towards East and posed a threat to flood embankments in six sectors of Noida . This illegal sand mining was due to high demand for sand for increased construction activity. When officers led by Nagpal impounded vehicles and machinery used for illegal mining , arrested illegal miners and lodged FIRs with police , she was suspended and after reinstatement , was shifted out of Gautam Buddha Nagar.
The above is just an indication of how the mining department in one state has been encouraging illegal mining and thereby , encouraging the destruction of ecology and environment .The situation is similar in many other states where illegal mining , encroachment of forest areas, underpayment of government royalties, conflict with tribals regarding land rights are rampant , due to nexus of political , bureaucratic and mining mafia, playing havoc with the ecology and environment .But there have been voices against such operations from civil society , which are growing louder and louder with time , as public awareness rises. The department of Mines as well as Ministry of Environment and Forests , both at the Centre and at the States level , have to act in a co-ordinated and determined manner to protect environment , ecology and human lives from mining.