The Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), appointed by the Supreme Court to conduct a macro-level environment impact assessment study report of Bellary district in Karnataka in view of widespread illegal iron ore mining, has recommended measures with far-reaching implications.
The study has found large-scale damage to the environment, flora and fauna and socio-economic levels of the population in and around mining areas. It has favoured the continuation of mining only by large leaseholders, meaning companies with at least 50 hectares of leased area.
D V Pichamuthu, director-south, Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (Fimi) said the consortium concept was good, but not many small leaseholders may come forward. “ICFRE has come out with a very good report in such a short duration of three months. We (at Fimi) had always advocated large holdings for lease. But, the state government wants to satisfy more numbers of applicants by giving small leases,” he said.
A common dumping ground, safety zones and conveyor belts must be provided for stacking ore, says the report. These mines should be run as a single unit on a cost and profit sharing basis.
“Both large and small mines affect the environment in different ways. If scientific mining is carried out and due safeguards are in place, then large mines cause comparatively less pollution and damage to the environment as compared with small mines,” it said.
The study says severe damage has been caused to the environment in Bellary by small leaseholders, the damage compounded by blatant illegal/unscientific mining.
One major recommendation is to restricting extraction of ore to just 25 million tonnes in Bellary district and five mt in Chitradurga and Tumkur districts in a year. The annual ore requirement of Karnataka is around 30 mt and a majority of its demand is met from Bellary.
The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur, had estimated that production of iron ore from the area would increase from 13.9 mt in 2004 to 34 mt in 2030. However, according to data from the district administration, output peaked at 41.6 mt in 2007-08.
Pichamuthu said restricting ore production to just 30 mt was not feasible. “The ICFRE has probably not considered the possibility of finding ore beyond 50 metres under the ground. The IBM studies showed there is ore below 150 metres and that will increase the life of our mines for many years,” he said.
The ICFRE report highlights the need to commission a feasibility study to bring superior underground mining technologies in the Western Ghats to extract about 10 billion tonnes of magnetite ore available, of which about eight billion tonnes are in Karnataka. Internationally, technologies are available and they should be used, adapted to suit local conditions with suitable inputs from the Indian School of Mines or Indian Institutes of Technology.
The study says mine owners must show proof of having modern technology and trained manpower and have sufficient space to manage ore and overburden in a scientific manner, along with a plan for rehabilitation and reclamation of the mined-out area.