MAC: Mines and Communities

Niyamgiri mining fraught with danger

Published by MAC on 2006-07-18

Niyamgiri mining fraught with danger

Statesman News Service, BHUBANESWAR

18th July 2006

The Wildlife Institute of India study on the impact of bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hills as proposed by the OMC-Vedanta project has observed that it will lead to "irreversible changes in the ecological characteristics of the area", posing a threat to the unique wildlife habitat and water sources.

The study carried out during May this year was ordered by the ministry of environment and forests which acted as per instructions of the Supreme Court.

According to reliable sources, the WII report has dealt in great detail with the impact of mining on biodiversity including wildlife and its habitat in the area proposed to be mined. Niyamgiri is important both for its biological richness and for its functional role as a link between the forests of Kandhamal district and to those of Rayagada, Kalahandi and Koraput districts.

The contiguity is critical for the movement and conservation of elephants. The future of endangered wildlife in the region like tiger, leopard, wolf, pangolin, giant squirrel, mouse deer, barking deer, four horned antelope etc are directly linked to landscape level conservation , the report is said to have observed.

The latest study has debunked an earlier assessment of the environmental impact of Lanjigarh bauxite mining which had noted that some areas being unproductive and devoid of trees, were not useful for wildlife.

WII maintained that the areas which had been marked as unproductive by the earlier EIA were in reality very productive plateaus with high occurrence of herbivore and carnivore species. Elephants visit the area during monsoon when grass is abundantly found and it also acts as breeding and fawning ground for the four horned antelope, barking deer etc.

Niyamgiri hills are the source of Vansadhara and Nagaveli rivers. Nearly 36 streams originate around the hill and apprehensions are rife that removal of the bauxite layer will adversely impact on ground waters in the region and consequently the quality of forested habitats will deteriorate.

The mining plan proposes excavation of 78 million ton of ore and 17.9 million ton of overburden and the gap in the material created by the extraction will create a void for backfilling . The plan states that the present topographic level after restoration will be lowered by 10 to 15 meters.

WII is said to have observed that this may lead to soil erosion and impact adversely on drainage and forest productivity as well. It is apprehended that blasting and disturbances to the forest habitat over 25 years will adversely affect the movement of elephants and increased human population at the site will cause conflict with wildlife.

The bauxite mining in Niyamgiri plateau will destroy a specialised kind of wildlife habitat, dominated by grasslands and sparse tree species. The preparation of the mine site and access to the top of the hills through roads involve removal of prime vegetation cover which harbours giant squirrels , a highly endangered species. It is said to have taken the cost benefit ratio for the project and observed that compromising long-term economic returns for short-term gains is unwise.

The Vedanta project, particularly after its mining tie-up with OMC has been under fire. Congress MLA Mr Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra raised the issue which has since been a major controversy and is pending adjudication of the Supreme Court. A team of the Central empowered committee had carried out a study and the latest in this sequence is the WII report.

Congress leaders like Mr Mohapatra, Mr Debasis Patnaik , several social activists and environmental agencies had raised a hue and cry at the alleged destruction of the forest cover.

As per the proposed mining the state has proposed diversion of 660.749 hectare of forest land for bauxite ore mining in favour of OMC which in turn has entered into an agreement with Vedanta, a subsidiary of Sterlite Industries for captive mine to supply ore to its refinery. The total mine lease areas involves 721.323 hectares of land which includes 672 hectares of forest land .

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