An Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Committee, constituted by the Supreme Court to study the environmental fallout of mining in Bellary district made some startling revelations in its report submitted earlier this month.
The report quantified the enormous toll that mining had taken on human health, livelihood, forests and wildlife.
Poor agricultural productivity had turned over 600 farms fallow over the last 10 years.
Acute diarrhoea and respiratory diseases contributed to 42 per cent of all health-related problems in the three mining taluks (Bellary, Hospet and Sandur).
Fatal road accidents involving mining trucks had risen from 148 in 2000 to 370 in 2010, even as expenditure on road repair (due to the density of traffic) trebled from Rs. 1,436 lakh to Rs. 4,836 lakh.
Director-General of Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) V.K. Bahuguna, who lead the EIA team to Bellary, spoke toThe Hinduabout the significance of these findings and his recommendations.
Was the extent of environmental damage in the form of air and water pollution, and impact on agriculture worse than you expected?
We did not go to Bellary with preconceived ideas. We were given a scientific task by the Supreme Court. We were, however, aware that there would be complaints of serious damages to the environment.
You have recommended ‘sustainable' or ‘scientific' mining. Could you elaborate on what you mean?
By sustainable mining we mean the exploitation of mineral resources in accordance with established scientific prescriptions with minimum environmental damage.
In nutshell, it is an activity related to extraction of mineral ores in a manner which is ecologically sustainable, socially acceptable, economically viable, and technically and administratively feasible.
If mining is carried out according to norms, how soon can the environment revive?
Fortunately, we found nature to be resilient here, and we noticed a lot of vegetation growing back after mining was halted. If the recommendations of the ICFRE report are implemented, mining operations can be carried out and a win-win situation would emerge not only in Bellary but also elsewhere in Karnataka and the country.
What was the most prominent impact on the quality of life?
The worst impact was on air quality.
Mining activity had pushed up the levels of suspended particulate matter significantly, leading to severe respiratory infections. Agricultural productivity was also impacted by mining dust, and therefore livelihoods endangered too.
You have suggested that iron ore exploitation be restricted for domestic use and not for export…
Yes. This is also a question of inter-generation equity. But the court and the government have to take a call on this matter.