Sunday, 5 March 2017

Mining,Human Safety and Environment

          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 Iron Ore , Bauxite , Chromite , Limestone , Coal and Copper ore.
   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.