Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Mining Study urges legal action

The Macro-level Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study conducted by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) in the mining areas of Bellary district as directed by the Supreme Court has revealed that 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 compared with small mines,” the report said.
 The council submitted its report to the court on November 4, 2011. The court is likely to hear the matter in its next hearing.
The study indicates that during the period 2000-2011, 8.9 sq km of forest area has been converted for other land uses. Mining-related activities have impacted an area of about 43.4 sq km and spread significantly outside the designated mine lease boundaries. These findings reflect that large-scale mining has been carried out in an unsustainable and unscientific manner, often disregarding environmental parameters and the conditions set out in various clearance processes, mostly to extract a higher quantum of ore to cash in on the boom in the demand for ore abroad.
The ICFRE study said ambient air quality (AAQ) has deteriorated coinciding with a substantial increase in iron ore production from the area. “Surface as well as groundwater quality has been observed to deteriorate from mineral content point of view, which may be due to leaching during monsoon and getting concentrated during summer due to evaporation. The levels of heavy metals in terms of iron (Fe) and manganese (Mn) as well as fluoride (F) depending upon the type of formation of iron ore is contributing to the variable values of these parameters,” the report said.
The study has established that mining operations have adversely affected the floral and faunal diversity in the district. It has noted the presence of 39 rare, endangered and threatened (RET) species of fauna and nine RET species of flora. The district is also rich in medicinally-important plant species (109 in Hospet and Sandur blocks, 54 in Bellary block). Mining operations have caused both habitat fragmentation and degradation along with invasions of exotic weed species.
To mitigate the damage, it is necessary now to take stringent punitive actions against the mines involved. The defaulting mine owners should be asked to pay for the damage caused to the environment by unscientific mining.
The forests in Bellary district support a viable population of the Indian wolf and the hill slopes harbour a very small population of the yellow-throated bulbul. In view of this, the study recommends that a wildlife conservation plan for the RET animal and plant species be prepared and implemented. A medicinal plant conservation centre be created and a butterfly conservation centre be established and a massive ecological restoration programme of mines be undertaken by competent agencies with funding support from the revenues generated from the mining activities.
The study also found an increase in areas of fallow land in the district from 2003-04 to 2008-09 mainly due to low productivity of agricultural and tree crops and diversion of agricultural land for mining-related activities. “There has been a sharp increase in mining-related diseases in the area. Acute diarrhoea and respiratory diseases contribute to 42 per cent of the health-related problems in the three mining taluks of Bellary, Hospet and Sandur,” the report added.

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