Mining is one of the most environmentally and socially destructive economic activity. It has a low contribution to the GDP but the conflict it engenders is enormous and widespread. Our country today has the dubious distinction of having illegal mines significantly outnumbering the legal mines. A new Mines Mineral Development and
Regulation Act is on the anvil and it calls for far reaching reforms in the mining sector.
The 12th Five year plan should usher in an era of Mineral Development with development as the focus rather than the current attitude of exploiting minerals.
The key emphasis for the plan has to be on
1) Rationalising and regularization of the on-going mining activities on a war
The unacceptable situation of illegal mining must be put to an end. Irrational exploitation of differing grades of ores for short term gains has to be restrained.
Illegal mining of minor-minerals particularly of river-bed across the country have
been destroying the river systems and needs urgent attention.
2) Increasing investments on exploration especially through non-invasive technologies and augmenting the reserves both on-land and within our exclusive economic zone in the oceans;
Exploration investment in the country is abysmally low and does not even constitute 2% of the global exploration investments and needs to be raised significantly. There are very little resources going into developing new exploration methods. While our
EEZ extends to 200 km from the coast, current investments are restricted only to search for oil and gas.
3) Enhancing the efficiency of the mining activities and generating more resources from “brown-field” expansion rather than opening up new “green-field” areas;
Small pocket deposits in forested regions are being opened up creating patchiness and larger impact on the forest corridors while efficiency improvements and expansion of existing deposits are being neglected. This has to be a high priority.
4) Enabling and emphasizing on local value addition and restricting export of minerals;
Though every state government talks about value addition, in the name of lack of technology or that mining is a stand-alone industry important minerals are being exported with very little benefit to the state or the communities. Value addition must be the norm rather than as an exception.
5) Developing a widespread understanding of the strategic value of different minerals and ensuring conservation of requisite quantities of such minerals;
The strategic value of various minerals must be recognized and specific efforts must be made to conserve minerals essential for the country’s future. Minerals such as bauxite, titanium, and several heavy metals crucial for future development of materials need to be assessed for our long term needs rather than for profits to corporates in the current period.
6) Ensuring strict compliance of all the environmental, social and labour laws governing mining activities and
Several environmental, social and labour laws are constantly violated in several mining contexts. The laws should be made convergent with proper oversight authorities. The blight of occupational diseases such as asbestosis and silicosis must be eliminated.
7) Enabling evolution of economic opportunities not dependent on mining.
The long term consequences of climate change and strategic future mineral availability should form the key consideration in the development of minerals. It is important to recognize that mineral bearing areas do not suffer from the classic situation of “resource curse” which is seen across the globe. In order to do this effort must be made to identify economic opportunities which are not dependent on mining.
We must recognize that the minerals will be ours for ever if we restrain mining but the wealth of the soil and other biota will be lost for ever if we mine the minerals below them. Mechanisms like the NPV do not reflect the true long term value of the ecosystem services the terrain and the plant and animal resources provide.