MAC: Mines and Communities

India: Mining set to conquer unique coastal strip

Published by MAC on 2010-10-26
Source: Times of India (2010-10-15)

Thousands of Westerners will soon be heading for the Indian holiday state of Goa, as winter draws in around the Northern Hemisphere.

Many will travel along the picturesque Konkan railway which meanders south from Mumbai through coastal Maharashtra and the majestic Western Ghats (hills).

Most will be unaware that, as they offload their backpacks and rush to quaff their first cheap Goan beer, they are now in the heart of India's prime iron ore mining state.

Or that they have traversed a narrow strip of land that's slated to host 19 thermal and nuclear power plants, 56 open-cast mines, and 43 private ports.

According to environmentalist Dr Rajendra Parulekar there is an estimated Rs 25,000 crore [approx US$12  billion] of mineral wealth in Sindhudurg district alone.

"Lured by this, if mining continues unabated, it will have tragic human consequences,"  says Dr Parulekar:

"Devoid of rivers and agricultural land, farmers will have no option but to leave their once fertile and self-sufficient villages. The result will be urban migration and ensuing poverty and misery."

Editorial note: According to a recent report in the Times of India (see below) four mines are already operating in this region. The first of these was already being carved out in March 2009.

Konkan facing destructive development, says activist

Anil Singh, TNN,

16 October 2010

SINDHUDURG: Can a narrow strip of land that is so rich in plant and animal life that it is recognised as a global biodiversity hotspot retain its character even after hosting 19 thermal and nuclear power plants amounting to 35,000 MW, 56 open-cast mines and 43 private ports?min

This is the question that activists from Konkan such as Vaishali Patil have been asking. "If all these mega-projects are crammed into the three contiguous coastal districts of Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, will we able to maintain the ecological balance so vital for the livelihood of the people?," she asks.

Patil, who is emerging as the Medha Patkar of Konkan, was chosen to coordinate the recent Konkan trip of Prof Madhav Gadgil, chairperson of the ecology expert panel on Western Ghats appointed by the ministry of environment and forests. Villagers told Gadgil how pollution from big factories and mines was destroying the thriving horticulture (chiefly mangoes and cashew nuts) in the region.

An electronics engineer by education, Patil said she organised protests against individual projects but soon realised that there were too many projects to tackle one by one. The villagers fighting the projects and proposed projects have now banded together under the umbrella of the Konkan Vinashkari Prakalp Samiti, of which Patil (40) is the convenor. Although, she is left-leaning, the Samiti is not aligned to any political party.

"We are against this development model which has no human face, which is driven by greed and which threatens to destroy the fragile ecology of the region," she said.

According to her, the logic of so many mining and thermal power projects in the coastal districts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg is simple. "Iron ore from the mines is shipped to China and Japan and in the return journey the ships can carry coal for the thermal power plants."

The activist says that the privatisation of the 43 ports is to facilitate these projects but nothing is being done for fishermen who are complaining that these projects are blocking their channels. Fishermen in Gholap, Ratnagiri, pointed this out to Gadgil. "Not a penny has been spent on a fishing harbour in Ratnagiri," Vaishali said.

One of the earliest protests against mining was in Kalane village in Dodamarg taluka of Sindhudurg on the old Mumbai-Goa highway. It taught villagers how to to oppose similar projects in the neighbouring villages of Dongerpal, Asniye and Galel. "We have now learnt to speak up and realise that it is not only the fight for our village but for the entire Konkan," Sampada Desai, who led the women of Kalane, told Gadgil.

The villagers are angry at the projects being foisted on them and that too surreptitiously. The government resolution of January 2, '09, zeroing on Sindhudurg for mining and thermal projects was burnt in every village.

The Samiti is now asking for the implementation of the Kadrekar-Pendse committee report which had identified 43 micro hydel projects. It also wants more incentives to be given for horticulture, which is the mainstay of this region.

"Our fight is for the community's right to natural resources. It is a livelihood issue for them as they depend on the environment," said Patil, adding that the challenge was to take this message to the middle class.

The people of Konkan have been betrayed so often, she says, that they can't be blamed for being slightly cynical about the ecology expert panel despite the earnest efforts of Prof Gadgil. "However, we are looking forward to the transparency promised by Prof Gadgil, who pledged to put all the reports on the Net," said Patil. Gadgil has already said that prima facie there are deficiencies in the environment impact assessment reports of some of the proposed projects.

Prof Gadgil has asked the villagers to mail their objections to him and also asked them what kind of industries they want. "We look at it as an opportunity to reemphasise the kind of development model we would like to have," said Patil.


Mining blow to Western Ghats

Viju B

Times of India

15 October 2010

SAWANTWADI-DODAMARG (MAHARASHTRA): The beauty of the Western Ghats, one of the last few remaining densely forested areas in the country, may soon be relegated to the realm of the picture postcard.

In what could bring forth one of the worst ecological disasters in years, the state government has approved 49 mining leases for excavating iron and bauxite ores in the eco-fragile Sindhudurg region.

Sindhudurg, incidentally, has the highest green cover in Maharashtra (49%) and was declared the first eco-tourism district in the country in 1997.

Worse, 32 of these mining permits have been given in the Sawantwadi-Dodamarg zone, which has the highest forest cover within Sindhudurg, and is an integral part of the wildlife corridor between Koyna sanctuary in Satara, Radhanagari wildlife sanctuary in Kolhapur district and the Anshi-Dandeli tiger reserve in Karnataka.

The biodiverse region, with perennial streams and rivers, is home to a spectrum of wildlife, such as the leopard, bison and deer. Forest officials say there have been at least four tiger sightings as well in the past two years.

Four mines are already operational in the area. On Wednesday, TOI visited one, which began work last year, in Kalane village in Sawantwadi block. The sharp colour contrast at the site said it all: a long red strip of a half-slit mountain jutted out like an ugly sore amid the lush green canopy around it. Huge earth movers dug deep into the mountain and gouged out red mud, which was transported by a trail of dumpers to processing units.

Stalin D, project director of Vanashakti, an environmental NGO working on mining-related issues in Sindhudurg, explains that the mining companies use open-cast processing to excavate iron ore and bauxite.

"The mountains have to be slit open and dug up to extract minerals lying deep beneath the soil," he says. "What remains are huge craters filled with unpotable water full of heavy metals. The miners never bother to refill the hole or replant native vegetation to regenerate the eco-system."

Before operations began here, the villagers of Kalane had passed a gram sabha resolution stating that they did not want mining, as it would destroy both the rich flora and fauna and their agricultural farmlands.

"The villagers in Kalane objected at the two public hearings, as the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report prepared by the mining firm did not mention the existence of perennial water bodies, rivers and the reserve forest in the adjoining Ugade village," says Sawantwadi-based environmental activist Dr Rajendra Parulekar.

"It is shocking that, based on the false EIA reports, mining companies got licences to operate here." Activists say that there were physical skirmishes between the mining companies and villagers, and that the latter were threatened.

Wildlife experts and botanists say that if other mining companies start operations at the proposed sites, the mountains will become huge craters in just a few years from now. "Just look at how miners have destroyed stretches of Goa along the Sahyadri, where instead of green mountains we have ugly open craters now.

The government should revoke all these licences if it wants to protect its rich natural resources, and instead encourage eco-friendly business models," says Goa-based environmental activist Claude Alvares, who has been advocating zero mining in all eco-fragile zones in the country.

Interestingly, Alvares believes that mining companies are increasingly eyeing Maharashtra ever since the ministry of environment and forests imposed a moratorium on issuing fresh mining leases in Goa till its government came out with a comprehensive mineral policy. "It is a well-known fact that the mining mafia is controlled by politicians from both states, as the money involved is huge," he says.

According to Parulekar, there is an estimated Rs 25,000 crore of mineral wealth in Sindhudurg. "Lured by this, if mining continues unabated, it will have tragic human consequences as well," he says. "Devoid of rivers and agricultural land, farmers will have no option but to leave their once fertile and self-sufficient villages. The result will be urban migration and ensuing poverty and misery."


Anti-mining stir leads to a row, death and persecution

Down To Earth

24 April 2009

ON THE morning of March 19, people of Kalane village in Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra were roused by the sound of heavy machinery. Workers hired by mining company Minerals and Metals were building a road at 4 am leading up to the mine in Survey Number 57. "They were illegally cutting through the land owned by villagers," said Rakesh Chonkar, an eyewitness from the village in Dodamarg taluka.

People rushed to stop the work and got into an argument with the company officials and 50-odd security guards. "After the police came the officials and guards jumped into vehicles and fled. One guard fell off a jeep and hurt himself," Parag Gaonkar, a journalist and resident of Kalane, told Down To Earth. "Later, he died of internal injuries."

The police booked 20 top leaders of the anti-mining agitation in the region. Parag said he had clicked photographs, including that of the guard falling, but the police refused to look at the pictures.

R V Pilnekar, the station house officer in Dodamarg, said the police had enough evidence against the booked.

The scenic Kalane has been on edge ever since the Indian Bureau of Mines cleared an open-cast mining project there on January 22. Despite people's opposition the mining lease over 32.25 hectares (ha) was granted to Minerals and Metals, promoted by Doddanavar Bros, one of the principal producers of iron ore in India.

The company plans to extract an estimated 5.4 million tonnes of iron and manganese ore underneath the leased patch of the Sahyadri range, one of the world's 25 richest and threatened biodiversity hot spots.

Most of the 1,500 people in Kalane, as in other parts of the Konkan region, depend on horticulture and cashew plantations. They fear silt and dust from mining will affect their health and plantations. The rapid environment impact assessment (eia) report of the project warns that fine dust particles released during mining will affect breathing and may result in silicosis and tuberculosis. Noise from mining may hinder hearing and affect people's nervous system.

Kalane is just the beginning. Two more mining companies are seeking leases for 250 ha in neighbouring Ugade, Zolombe, Talkot, Sasoli, Kanshi-Bhalaval, Kesai-Panchavadi and Asanuje villages, said Vaishali Patil, who is coordinating a people's movement against mining in Sindhudurg.

People of Kalane allege the police want to break the movement's back. "For a week after the clash, personnel in riot gear from the Dodamarg police station kept entering our houses and threatened to implicate us in the murder case," said Harishchandra Bhise of Kalane. The men in Kalane went underground for days until the visits stopped. In the last week of March, Kalane residents went to the police station wearing black bands and dared the police to arrest them. The police registered a case of rioting against 47.

Patil said the people were pushed to the brink by the administration. The first public hearing of the project in August last year was a farce, where the administration let the mining officials interrupt people when they spoke, she alleged. Chonkar said during subsequent hearings the villagers were "heckled by ruffians" flanking the gathering.

Also, the eia report is full of errors. Prepared by a mining engineer registered with the Indian Bureau of Mines, it lists jackals as the highest predator in the Sindhudurg jungles, while the district's official portal acknowledges the presence of leopards and tigers. The report says mining will not have much impact on wildlife, even though Kalane is part of an elephant migratory corridor (see ‘Elephants without borders', Down To Earth, February 16-28, 2009).

With Goa extensively mined, attention is shifting to neighbouring Maharashtra. In January, Maharashtra withdrew the ecologically fragile status given to Sindhudurg in 1997 and allowed mining and thermal power plants in the district full of pristine beaches and calm backwaters (see ‘Volte face', Down To Earth, March 1-15, 2009).

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