Mining at all cost

Published: Thursday 30 April 2009

Where is the will to find out what is best for the people and the economy?

MINING in India is frequently in the news these days. There has hardly been an issue of this magazine lately where an article on mining was not printed. The headlines are predictable by now: mining destroys forests; mining pollutes rivers; people are evicted to allow mining; mining encroaches on wildlife habitat; police file cases against people protesting mining; fight breaks out between the community and the mining company during public hearing; government colludes with mining companies to divert ecologically sensitive area. The list is endless. The crux of all these stories is same. The government is mindlessly allowing mining and communities are not willing to take it lying down. Sindhudurg is no different.

In 1997, the district was declared an ecologically fragile region by the Maharashtra government. The area is known for its natural beauty, beaches, backwaters, waterfalls, mountains and forests. It is also famous for Alphonso mangoes and cashew, on which the area's economy depends. But the Maharashtra government has come to realize this area also has iron ore. It therefore withdrew Sindhudurg's ecologically fragile status early this year and allowed mining and construction of power plants. With mines in neighbouring Goa excavated hollow and large deposits of iron ore still to be tapped in Sindhudurg, mining companies have moved in.

The government is happy, but the people are not. This is a prosperous district with more than 80 per cent literacy rate. More than 90 per cent people live in rural areas; most of the land is held by small and marginal farmers. They don't want mining to destroy their land, water, forests and environment. But the government is not listening; it is more interested in making deals with mining companies.

Just because there are minerals underground, does it have to be mined at all cost? Aren't there better and ecologically sustainable ways to boost the economy? Sindhudurg is most suited for tourism, agriculture and horticulture, which will be completely destroyed if large-scale mining is allowed and this Maharashtra must know from the experience in Goa. Mining has wrought havoc there.

The fact of the matter is no clearance mechanism for mines demands a cost-benefit analysis to see whether mining is the best option for a particular region. Until there is a mechanism to explore what is socially and economically the best choice, India will continue to mine mindlessly.

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