Mineral resources are most vital for industrial, and hence socio-economic development of the country. These are the principal raw material for most of the heavy and essential industries like thermal power plants, iron and steel, aluminium, copper, lead, zinc etc. Further, mineral resources, unlike other natural resources, are non-replenishable in nature. Therefore, these have to be properly mined, processed and utilised with zero waste approach.
Till now, most of the mines in different mineral rich states of India, are being leased out. Lease holders practically mine most of the rich minerals leaving behind the low-grade ones, which are much more in quantity compared to high grade minerals. In due course, these left out low-grade minerals ultimately get lost along with the over burden at the mine sites.
Further, most of the mining companies use backdated technology resulting in loss of large amount of resources and cause a lot of noise and dust pollution in the area.
Mines scam are rampant in almost all mineral rich states of India. As a consequence of this, both the states and the Centre suffer huge revenue loss, the local people live in a polluted environment and are harassed in various ways, large amounts of forests and water bodies get destroyed, and a lot of low-grade minerals get lost along with the over burden.
Thus, the mining companies, benefit through illegal mining at the cost of all this and leave the area in a devasted state.
Therefore, the recent decision of the Government of India to auction the mines should give an opportunity to handover the mines to technically more advanced and experienced mining companies. In this process, it should be ensured that all acceptable grades of minerals are mined and the low-grade ones are upgraded before being sold, preferably to domestic industries.
In addition, the conditions provided in the auction should compel the auction holders to keep the area environment-friendly by protecting other valuable resources like forest, water, soil etc., as well as backfilling the mined areas and harvesting rainwater in the remaining mine pits to make the mine area productive and habitable.
Prior to mining, it is essential to properly evaluate the reserves of various grades of minerals at different localities along with forest and water resources. The mine plan should be carefully framed before auctioning. The plan should contain the estimated quantity of various grades of minerals to be mined, the location and process for upgrading the low-grade minerals, steps to be taken to protect the forest and water resources, back filling the mine areas by the over burden and top soil after mining, undertaking rain water harvesting in the mine pits, rehabilitating the local people including provision for employment, and protection of the environment in general.
By auctioning the mines with a proper plan for resource development and implementing those strictly, all the stakeholders, including the governments would benefit. The industry will prosper, minerals will be conserved and the mine areas would be productive and habitable even after mining.
It may be mentioned here, that I had framed an integrated mine area development programme to achieve all these benefits about 35 years back. The experts under my leadership demonstrated the programme at a chromite mine at Kaliapani, Sukinda, Odisha and a lime stone mine at Lambidhar in Uttarakhand. The programme at both the sites was appreciated by the respective state governments and the Government of India. Unfortunately, the programme was not taken seriously by the mine owners.
To make mineral mining most effective, a high-power committee representing all the stakeholders should be formed for the mines in the region. The committee should inspect the functioning of the mines from time-to-time, keeping in view the mining and environment management plan recommended by the government. Strict action should be taken if the mine plan is not followed seriously. As mining is hazardous in nature, each mine or a group of small mines should have a Disaster Management Cell to safeguard the working condition and safety of the workers in the mine and local people living in the area. In this way, the environment-friendly mining of minerals will bring sustainable development.
[The writer is former Director General, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, India, former Planning Board Member, Government of Odisha, former Founder Chairman, Institute of Advance Technology & Environmental Studies (IATES) and founder president, Natural Resources Development Foundation (NRDF)]
[Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author are his own and do not represent that of the website]