- Bauxite mining in Gumla district of Jharkhand is making the land barren and affecting the health of the people.
- Those affected by mining activities say that companies are not following norms that include backfilling of fields after the conclusion of mining, which is affecting their livelihood.
- Obtaining leases for mining on forest land is a complicated process and while procuring leases for mining on farming land is comparatively easier.
- The forest department is responsible for monitoring the loss of forest land due to mining and preparing an action plan. However, only wildlife and vegetation come under its ambit. Monitoring the impact on farmers and tribal communities does not come under its purview.
Dumbarpath is a tribal village in Gumla district of Jharkhand, a primary area of bauxite mining in India. Mining activities have been ongoing in the region for the past 30 years and there is continuous movement of ore-laden trucks. This has left the land barren, the air polluted and there is worry over among the local people, about the dwindling groundwater level, which they also attribute to the mining activities.
Speaking to Mongabay-India on the condition of anonymity, Michael (name changed), who lives in Dumbarpath village, told Mongabay-India, “Bauxite has been mined here since 1987. Now the situation is such that even gondli (a variety of millet) and grass won’t grow here. I don’t know what will happen to us.”
His friend James (name changed) adds, “We manage to cultivate paddy, wheat and gondli in the fields that are not completely damaged due to mining yet. It’s not easy, as there are no irrigation facilities here. This is a dry region.”
In India, bauxite is mined in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. India, along with Australia, China, Indonesia and Brazil, is one of the major bauxite producing countries in the world. Scientific and environmental studies on the impact of bauxite mining on local communities have been conducted in many countries around the world.
A 2012 paper on bauxite mining in Kolhapur district in Maharashtra revealed that mining has a detrimental effect in the region and leads to air pollution, deforestation and loss of biodiversity as well as impacts water resources.
In Jharkhand, mining activities happen in and around Lohardaga and Gumla districts. Bagru Mines is the most prominent mine in Lohardaga. Lands of many farmers were acquired in these districts for bauxite mining. The remaining fields have suffered damage because of the dust released during mining and mining waste that flows into these fields along with rainwater. With the agricultural lands rendered unproductive because of the impacts of mining, the local people are now completely dependent on bauxite mines for employment and livelihood.
About 5 kms from Dumbarpeth, in the Gumla district, is the Sakhuapani village, inhabited by the tribal community, Asur, notified as one of the primitive tribes in India. Nestled between a forest and a plateau, this village is surrounded by bauxite mines. Sushma Asur, a resident of the village, is a prominent face in the people’s fight to save the Asuri culture, rights and language. While talking to Mongabay-India she says, “The main problem is that if mining stops for two days, people here would be left without food. Their fields have been taken over by companies and they work as labourers at the mines. The others work as porters and load bauxite onto the trucks.”
Sakhuapani village resident Bande Asur, 35, has been working at one of the bauxite mines since 2008. He informs that after giving away 22 acres of his land to the mines, he started working at the mine for a salary of Rs. 72 per day. He now gets Rs. 595 per day. Those who manage to find a secure job at the mines are fortunate because mining companies sometimes lay off workers citing arbitrary reasons.
Jerome Gerald Kujur is a social worker and also the general secretary of the Anti-Netarhat Field Firing Range Central People’s Struggle Committee (Netarhat Field Firing Range Virodhi Kendriya Jan Sangharsh Samiti), formed to protest the army’s field firing range operating in the area. He says, ”We have been opposing bauxite mining in our area because it has destroyed the fields of farmers and has added to their woes.”
He adds, “After mining concludes, companies do not do the needful (reclaim and rehabilitate), due to which the fields of the farmers are no longer fit for cultivation.” Reclamation and rehabilitation of the mining area is noted in Rule Number 34 of The Mineral Conservation and Development Rules, 1988, by the Ministry of Mines, which lays down conditions for phased reclamation, reclamation and rehabilitation of land affected by the mining and insists that it should be done before the termination of mining operations and before the mine is abandoned.
Speaking about this, Rajaram Prasad, Lohardaga’s District Mining Officer, tells Mongabay-India,“The mining companies are working on the reclamation (land reform) aspect as per the provisions of the law. If the villagers approach us with specific complaints, we take action and write to the concerned companies. These (mines) are not coal mines that will cause extensive damage.”
He adds,“Companies till and level the land after mining and as per the requirement, also plant trees. Yes, if mining residues get mixed up in the water, that can be dangerous for fish, etc.”
However, Sarvesh Singhal, the chairman of the Jharkhand Biodiversity Board, tells Mongabay-India,“Mining produces many chemicals that pollute the water. Because of this, the water holding capacity of the soil decreases.” When asked about mine backfilling, he said that when natural land is tinkered with, it can’t be brought back to its original form by artificial means.
D.K. Shahi, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at Birsa Agricultural University, Ranchi, sheds light on the layers of soil.“Top soil (upper layer of land) is the most important in any type of farming — it can be divided into two parts; 15 cm from the surface and then from 15 cm to 30 cm. The first layer is an important one. Some crops have deep roots and in that case, the second layer also becomes important. If the top layer gets eroded, the soil loses its fertility.”
The Asur tribal people mainly live in the Gumla and Lohardaga districts. According to the 2011 census, the population of the Asur tribe in Jharkhand stands at 22,459. The Asurs live in and around Netarhat hill. Due to widespread pollution caused by mining, the Asur tribe, which is already vulnerable, is at risk.
Nitish Priyadarshi, an assistant professor and geologist at Ranchi University, says,“Bauxite found in Jharkhand has an aluminum content of 52-54 percent and is considered good in this sense. But its mining is harmful for the tribals and the poor. The Asurs are the worst affected.”
The dust from the mines is damaging the fertile land and affecting the health of the tribals and the Asurs who live close to the bauxite mines in Gumla and Lohardaga. “The Netarhat plateau is known for its biodiversity, but rampant mining may cause landslides like it happened in Joshimath and lead to a water crisis,” Priyadarshi warns
He adds, “As the Asurs have been living in and around laterite and bauxite mines, they have mastered the age-old technique of refining iron from laterite.”
Bauxite is a red clay rock, which is called laterite soil. Bauxite mainly consists of an aluminium oxide compound (alumina), silica, iron oxide, and titanium dioxide. According to the Indian Bureau of Mines, bauxite is the main mineral ore to obtain aluminium. Aluminium is the second major metal used after iron.
In 2016, Kujur from the Central People’s Struggle Committee against the Netarhat Field Firing Range, along with a team, conducted a study on the ill effects of bauxite mining on the tribal community. According to this report, bauxite has been mined in Jharkhand since 1948, and on the Netarhat plateau since 1984-85. This report focuses on 226 families living in five villages and covers a population of 1,835. Of these, while 230 are Asurs, the rest belong to the Uraon and Munda tribes. The report mentions that 95 percent of the farmers are of the opinion that companies do not get the land levelled after mining because of which the land becomes unusable.
Mining in fields easier compared to forest land
According to documents accessed by Mongabay-India, in Gumla, 7,864 acres of land has been allotted to mines and 27 bauxite mining leases have been signed. Similarly, in Lohardaga, 13 bauxite mining leases have been signed and 1,814 acres of land has been allotted to mines. About 11 acres (4.47 hectares) of forest land has been allotted for mining in the Lohardaga forest division area, which also includes some areas of Gumla district. The rest of the land allotted for mining is agricultural land.
Arvind Kumar, Lohardaga’s Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) says, “Except for the mining lease granted for the 4.47 hectares of forest area, no bauxite mining work is undertaken on any other forest land owned by the farmers. The leases are granted by the Deputy Commissioner.”
According to a forest department official, obtaining permission to mine on forest land is a complicated process. The companies need to get permissions from the state and the Centre. On the other hand, leases for mining on lands belonging to farmers are granted by the office of the Deputy Commissioner (District Magistrate). The two leases have different terms.
Sudhir Gupta, Additional Collector of Gumla, says, “Mining contributes very little to the revenue collection in our district. It contributes only between Rs. 50 and Rs. 60 crore to the total revenue collection which stands at Rs. 1,300 crore. This comes to about four per cent.”
According to him, Gumla is a predominately agriculture-based economy, and his emphasis is on managing the livelihood of the people through agriculture and improving their standard of living. When asked to comment on the issue of the lands of farmers being taken over for mining, he pointed to a provision in Section 49 of the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act (CNT Act).
Section 49(b) of the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act 1908 mentions that farmers’ land can be transferred for mining and the government can issue a notification for this.
Vilal Anwar, Gumla Forest Division’s DFO, tells Mongabay-India, “In our district, bauxite mining happens outside the forest area. We prepare a Mitigation Plan and a Catchment Area Treatment Plan to mitigate the impact of mining. The Wildlife Management Plan is an attempt to understand if mining on non-forest land has led to animals fleeing from there. We carry out plantation activities and build check dams to minimise the impact of mining. The funds to carry out these activities are provided by the mining companies.”
This story was first published in Mongabay-Hindi.
Banner photo: Natural water resources and fertile lands have been polluted over the decades due to mining. Local people attribute this to indiscriminate mining. Representative image. Photo by Lecercle/Flickr