Iron Ore Mining

 

To

Shri Anil Kumar Jha

Union Tribal Affairs Secretary

 

Shri Alok Tandon

Union Mines Secretary

 

Shri Amitabh Jain

Chief Secretary

Chhattisgarh

 

Dear S/Shri Jha, Tandon and Jain,

I have come across a report (https://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/nmdc-s-steel-plant-sale-may-fetch-enterprise-valuation-of-up-to-4-bn-122062700710_1.html) that the NMDC (a joint sector PSU of the Centre and the State governments) would be shortly hiving off its steel mill with its ready access to iron ore mining in Chhattisgarh, perhaps to a private company.

The entire stretch in which the iron ore mines are located in the Dantewada district is a part of the areas in the State notified under the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution, where the tribals have special rights and, especially, where  the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas ) Act (PESA) and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) are applicable. Under both those laws, the local tribal Gram Sabhas have a pivotal role in decision making on all schemes and projects.

I feel distressed that far reaching decisions, such as undertaking mining and involving private companies in that activity, should be taken unilaterally by the government/ CPSEs, without respecting the sentiments of the local tribals and their Gram Sabhas, as mandated in the PESA and the FRA. In recent times, the concerned Central Ministries have summarily put coal and other mineral blocks to auction to private companies, without complying with the provisions of the PESA and the FRA. Such one-sided decisions violate the statute and run counter to the democratic norms of governance.

Coming specifically to iron ore mining by the NMDC in Dantewada district, the local tribal communities have expressed their resentment time and again (https://www.firstpost.com/india/tribals-gherao-hill-in-chhattisgarhs-bailadila-to-oppose-iron-ore-mining-claim-excavation-site-central-to-religious-beliefs-6775101.html), as the areas where such mining is undertaken has been the habitat of the tribals for generations and the hills and the forests, which they worship, provide them day-to-day sustenance. Mining activity destroys the valuable forest resources and their rich bio-diversity, pollutes the surroundings and, in addition, contaminates the catchment area that feeds rivers and rivulets on which the people in the plains below depend critically. If an objective social impact analysis were to be done, it would lead one to the conclusion that the social costs of such mining far outweigh the social benefits. While the mining companies profiteer by rapidly exploiting the limited iron ore resources, it is the tribals and the public at large who become the losers in the bargain.

In the specific case of Bailadila Iron Ore Mine, Bacheli Complex, in Dantewada district,  the access to which would now go to a private company as a result of the NMDC decision, the extractable iron ore resources are limited but of a high ferrous content. At the national level, the total extractable iron ore resources are also limited and, if one were to take into account their availability as per the standard UNFC classification of the iron ore resources in the country, at the present annual production level, they would at best last for only 28 years. As the annual production levels go up, the life time of those resources would correspondingly reduce. Once NMDC’s Chhattisgarh iron ore resources go into the hands of a private company, the latter, driven by the profit maximisation compulsion, would exhaust the resources much sooner, indifferent to the need for scientific mining, unmindful of the need for safeguarding the environment and, most important, insensitive to the need to respect the needs of the local tribals.

In this connection, I wish to draw your attention to a landmark judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 18-4-2013 on bauxite mining by the Vedanta Group in Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha [WP(Civil) No. 180/2011], in which the apex court had quashed the proposal, after taking into account the considered views of the 12 Gram Sabhas of the local tribal community, Dongaria Kondhs. The principles laid down in that judgement apply to iron ore mining in the Dantewada district, which is an area notified under the Fifth Schedule.

Against this background, I would request both the Centre and the State government not to permit the NMDC to go ahead with the above cited decision, revisit the extent to which both the PESA and the FRA have been complied with and go back to the local tribal Gram Sabhas and the tribal communities to ascertain their views before moving forward.

In my view, enquiry by a senior member of the higher judiciary should be commissioned to look into the whole gamut of mining activity in the State, including its legal implications, and the legality of the auctioning of coal and other mineral blocks vis-a-vis the provisions of the PESA and the FRA.

In particular, I would request the Union Secretary for Tribal Affairs to intervene and act on this urgently.

Since the Hon’ble Governor of the State has a special role to play in governance in the Fifth Schedule Areas, I am marking a copy of this letter to her for consideration.

Regards,

Yours sincerely,

E.A.S.Sarma, Former Secretary to Govt of India  & former Commissioner for Tribal welfare in erstwhile united AP

 


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