MAC: Mines and Communities

Mining away Orissa's wealth!

Published by MAC on 2005-12-15

Mining away Orissa's wealth!

Editorial (Protected Areas Update, December, 2005)

The news coming out of Orissa makes depressing reading. One report says that an Elephant Reserve proposal has been put on hold to allow for mining. Another one reports the CM of the state warning forest department officials with dismissals if clearances for mining projects are not issued within six months. The developments related to the mining by Vedanta in the Niyamgiri hills are now well known. It took the Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered Committee to state that mining there was illegal - the responsibility for which is as much of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) as of the state government. Even as we go to press reports are coming in of continued state repression of those opposing the illegalities of this project.

An estimated Rs. 150,000 crores has been proposed as investment in mining related projects in Orissa in the next decade or so. Most of these areas not only have some of the finest forests in the country, they are also the traditional homelands of hundreds of tribal communities besides supporting large numbers of endangered fauna like the tiger and the elephant. Shrinking habitats due to large scale mining, construction of train lines and national highways and irrigation projects have, for instance, already seriously denied elephant populations their traditional migratory corridors.

An inevitable consequence has been the serious escalation in conflict with human beings with serious losses on both sides.

How, one wonders, can a CM threaten his officials with dismissal if clearances are not granted? Why not ask for the scrapping of all forest and environment related laws, instead? Won't that make things even simpler?

In a scenario like this there appears to be little hope for the forests, for wildlife and the traditional communities that have been living in these regions for generations? Will it help to just create small and scattered islands of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, and slice everything that links these islands? Who, in any case, will ensure the sanctity of these islands? How long before these are dug up to get to the mineral below?

Orissa's appetite for more investment and for more mining seems insatiable. In the quest for getting more and more from under the earth all that lives on her surface is being mindlessly sacrificed. Wonder what will be left in the years to come!

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