Sustainable mining compensate for loss of land and trees

Satya Sontanam BL Research Bureau | Updated on September 04, 2019 Published on September 04, 2019

Stabilisation of waste dump in process at SMIORE's Iron Ore mines in Sandur, Karnataka

But its true spirit is achieved only with greater accountability of miners

A recent video of a Manipuri girl crying inconsolably over two felled trees she planted four years ago, has gone viral in the social media. Besides the innocence of the nine-year old girl, the fact that most of us could relate to her bitterness made the visual sensational. After all, doesn’t it hurt to see the pristine nature being tampered with for human activities?

In a sense, mining, by virtue of its business, is against the nature. The illegal mining activities of a few miners have reportedly led to irreplaceable damage to the habitat in the surrounding areas.

Encroachment of forest, air and river pollution caused by tailings, depletion of water levels in the surrounding villages due to digging of mine below the water table, and threat to biodiversity are few of the major concerns of mining activities.

Can we stop mining?

Seems impossible (unless we measure the country’s development using ‘Gross National Happiness Index’ like Bhutan). When we look around, we see hardly any item or construction that does not use minerals or metals from the earth. Mining has become an integral part of development in the era of globalisation.

And most of the locals in the mining area depend on the industry as it has been serving as a source of employment and improved infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals.

Mining is inevitable. But sustainable mining – meeting the current needs with minimum use of natural resources such as water and land and having an uncompromising attitude towards their quality before handing it to the future generations – can be achieved only when miners take greater responsibility towards the environment.

Mining in India is highly regulated and requires numerous clearances from various departments before starting the operations. Here’s a look at few of the rules that focusses on sustainable mining. In case of mining on a forest land, obtaining a forest clearance is a pre-requisite. Forest Conservation Act mandates any user, using the forest land for any non-forest purpose (mining, in this case), to carry out afforestation in an equivalent area of non-forest land. This is termed as compensatory afforestation (CA) – afforestation to the extent of deforestation.

CA require miners to plant at least 1000 plants per hectare. In few cases, CA conditions specify planting 10 times the likely number of trees to be felled and directs to bear ten years of maintenance cost.

Also, in case of mines on a hilly terrain, to prevent the surface runoff (on a rainy day) contaminating the near-by rivers and villages, construction of retaining walls, gully plugs, and garland drains at various locations of mining area is recommended.

Finally, towards the end of the mining lease, the miner has to submit the final mine closure plan including rehabilitation process to restore physical, chemical and biological quality of the soil disturbed by the mining.

Good work by few miners

The author visited few of the iron ore mines - SMIORE, ERM, BKG and MSPL in Karnataka to understand the sustainable mining practices adopted by miners. These miners, ostensibly, are converting a mining or a dump area into a green cover. Miners have been maintaining their own nursery and the vermi-compost to have a stock of plants and fertile soil for rehabilitation.

To prevent the air pollution, miners use water sprinklers to suppress the dust. To effectively use water, ERM adopted dry fog machinery (that spreads mist to settle dust and controls water usage). While MSPL says that the company do not use any ground water and uses only that saved through rain water harvesting to meet their requirements. MSPL has its own conveyor belt to transport the mine output from hill top that helps in reducing the dust pollution causes by truck movements to a great extent.

BKG claims that it mixes the waste dump with the high quality ore (that results in lower ore quality) as one of the tools to effectively manage the waste.

How much ever is given back to the nature, undeniable fact is that mining takes away substantial area of green cover and the original flora and fauna cannot be replenished absolutely. Sustainable mining is just a start to mitigate the loss. As the saying goes, ‘whatever we do for the environment today is not service, it is a matter of survival.

Published on September 04, 2019
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