JSW Should Assist In Nation Building, Youth Development

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JSW is the current metal magnet sweeping Odisha’s alluring mines. With the help of Odisha, the group should be looking at a growth of at least 2X in the coming 3-5 years. Good for them and it should.

But what about the people of Odisha? It is JSW’s responsibility to join hands in catapulting the youth, the households to a much higher orbit of entrepreneurship and sustenance. Don’t translate this to CSR, which is at the most ‘lip service’. This ought to be much more organic than CSR.

I am sure JSW Group Chairman Sajjan Jindal realises that Odisha is the centrepoint of the group’s activity, benefit and promise. In fact, I have always maintained that Odisha is now the pivot of India’s growth trajectory and story. It is the gateway to India’s emergence in the global economic scene and the major contributor to the $5 trillion vision of the country.
My mother, you feed everyone, you are the Annapurna!

The JSW group started their current phase of Odisha journey quite strategically and kudos to them for having seeded the vision of $1 trillion economy, through a report titled ‘Economic possibilities for Odisha towards a one trillion-dollar economy’, jointly prepared by JSW Group and PwC India. Mr Jindal has described Odisha as a “hidden gem of India”. It is in fact no more a hidden gem and that makes the communities of Keonjhar, Sundergarh, Angul, Jharsuguda, Koraput, Mayurbhanj, Jagatsinghpur and the rest of Odisha anxious. This is a typical scare of handing over the rental economy at the hands of a few groups whose activities will determine the future of Odisha, the sparkling gem of India.

JSW Steel has so far bagged three iron ore mines with cumulative reserves of 1,091 million tonnes – Nuagaon iron ore mine, Narayanposhi iron and manganese ore mine, and Ganua iron ore mine. The corporate has realised early the value of Nuagaon mines, which is the largest of the deposits (larger than all the others combined) and hence has aggressively bid for this 792.93 million tonne reserve, spread over 767.284 ha. The block would provide an assured raw material supply to JSW Steel, which is setting up a 13.2 million tonne per annum (mtpa) greenfield steel project near Paradip.

The steel plant, along with Captive Power Plant (CPP), is pegged as an investment of Rs 55,000 crore. Such is the expected scale of returns from the production that the steel maker has committed to paying almost an equal amount of the sale value of the ore to the state, besides taxes, DMF and other mining specific levies. We can imagine the returns and the profitability.

There are about 1500 households in the Nuagaon mines area (greater area) and among the population of about 6000, more than half are youth. Joda as a municipality has a population of over 50,000 with 50% below 35.

Narayanposhi mines is in Sundergarh district and has the capacity to produce more than 190 million tonnes (Mt) of iron ore and it being a composite block also has a reserve of 0.505Mt of manganese. Manganese, which has recently become an important battery metal, has now joined the list of 23 elements that have been placed on the Critical Elements list by the US Government. Simply put, it is a precious mineral which is of high value in the global market. The National Highway No-215 is passing within the Mines area which has a population of about 1100 households. Besides mining, if they could be supported in agriculture, the produce could be sold at better conditions, due to the proximity of the NH.

Ganua in Sundergarh district has an estimated ore reserve of 118.92 MT and is a reserved block for sponge iron, steel or pellet plants raw material. There are perennial seasonal streams, which are usually flooded in the rainy season and link up to Kakarapani Nala, which is a larger perennial stream. The name suggests that the water is cool in this area. But over the last decade, the ground water table has been depleting further. This is a cause of worry for the 1000 households in the immediate vicinity.

All the mines are located in the low-income areas of Odisha and India. Of course, the lease owners would have already provided the geological reports and the exploration plans. But do we have a community development agreement ready to be signed with the mine owners, post auction? Importantly, do we think that a community development commitment is necessary? If yes, then who would decide or facilitate a plan, which can be made mandatory for the prospective mine owners. As a part of the Action Plan (the master plan by the state), which I am sure would have already been submitted to the Centre, the community development perspective would have been stitched together. I hope so. Can we see that in public domain?

It is not about a few thousand households near the mining areas, but it is about the future of the state. Odisha is sitting on a climate emergency. Mining activities would have an effect on the climate. Hence there should be extra efforts in community outreach and sustainable mining – e.g., through installation of solar plants, use of solar street lights in the mines, rain water harvesting and ground water recharging at the mines, installation of STP at their mines to recycle waste water, solar plants in mines to reduce the carbon foot prints and the like. But it is one thing to buck up initiatives in safe and sustainable mining practices and another to take care of the lives around mining geographies.

I trust in the industry (the miners) to commission professional help in assessing the needs of the communities with the help of the district authorities. If at all, the District Collectorate is the governance, which is closest to the communities. If their capacities are worked upon then they could be the best point for monitoring of the (i) Managing impacts at the mine level (ii) Progressive mine closure & Landscape Restoration (iii) addressing social impact and community engagement iv) reporting on sustainability, conducting social audits, energy audits etc.

There is a Sustainable Development Framework (SDF) to be ideally adopted by the mining companies. If it has not been made compulsory yet for the miners, it should be made so. It is impending and quite obvious that a huge land grab is threatening India’s tribal people and that includes Odisha. The forest-dwelling adivasis, indigenous tribes, found in all the mining zones of Odisha are the directly affected stakeholders under the SC order for the eviction of close to 2 million adivasis from protected forest lands across India. Citizen services facilitated by the district or state authorities could have prevented the adivasis staring at homelessness, any moment ( over 30000 in Odisha). They are condemned to be refugees in their own land and somewhere we the civil society is accentuating their problems.

SDF is not the panacea, nor is a part of the regulatory (it should have been) but it has the compass to cover comprehensively, all inclusive. The social aspects of development projects are usually the most challenging and can pose a significant risk to the successful implementation of projects. Because we are dealing with people with complex emotions, hopes, concerns, expectations and insecurities. Assessing a project’s impact on the biophysical environment does not require any complicated processes. Mineral resources are finite and non-renewable, at least in biological timescales. Environmental, social problems along with mining related risks are increasingly breeding conflicts between miners and local communities. Understandably so.

It is common sense. “The industry makes supernormal riches out of virtually nothing (soil) and the industry don’t even care to look at the guardians of the bounty, the tribals”. How does this make any indifference tenable? I call this, the ‘arrogance of rent seeking caucus”.

After all, it is about our land, our communities and ultimately our treasury. What’s the secret in all this? Rapidly changing global order, energy transitions, climate emergency and supersonic technological advancement should enable exemplary development of locals and tribals in Odisha. ICTs (information & communication technologies) can deployed for the development of the mines’ communities. Because mining in Odisha would have powerful global effect. The resources which would be sucked out are non-renewable. Can we squander away this opportunity and not build our lives, in the best possible manner? For me, this is a once in a lifetime chance to build or rebuild an equitable society. Live and let live.

In Keonjhar, the epicentre of mining, 62 per cent of the population lives below poverty line. In Koraput, Asia’s bauxite capital, 79 per cent live below poverty line. The income from mineral extraction has not benefitted the regions from where the minerals are removed. Rather poverty has increased in many of these districts and has majorly affected the social fabric owing to quick gains due to the ‘middlemen’ syndrome. Mining royalty is the biggest non-tax contributor to the state’s revenue stream pegged at Rs 6130.97 crore from production of 270.84 million tonnes (mt) and supply of 287.80 mt minerals in 2017-18. With the opening of the mines, the mining revenue is estimated to cross Rs 12,000 crore, 2021 onwards. Education and agriculture term loans have the highest NPAs in the state. With the revenue from mining, the state should look at building parallel resources as standby. In about 5 decades from now, all our reserves would be depleted, and we would be an empty drum, ravaged and dumped. All the mineral-rich districts of the state featured in the list of most backward districts of the country.

If we don’t take care of our last house in the village at the last mile, the repository of our riches and spirituality, no amount of economic growth would be worthy, viable and pro human.

This is JSW’s golden opportunity to assist in nation building. Youth development (not only employment but soft skill), infrastructure development (there is no road connectivity to 4264 villages in the state), health infrastructure, and scientific development in R&D and Innovations are some of the areas where JSW should help get new technologies and bring in global recognition to homegrown innovations. JSW’s mining should be a ‘best practice’ that the globe should replicate in these trying times.

Odisha is the capital of soft skills and capital of minerals. We have the best of people and the best from nature. Our intention is to provide enabling environment to business and not create stumbling blocks. But in the same vein, not to be cuckold.
Let’s do real business, a balanced quid pro quo and a fair negotiation.
After all its our soil, our everything.

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