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Environmentalists concerned over plan to auction mining blocks in Odisha

A view of the Bharatpur Mines of Mahanadi Coalfields Limited at Talcher. File   | Photo Credit: Raghuvir Srinivasan

The proposed auctioning of 11 mines in Odisha has evoked sharp reactions among environmentalists and citizen groups, who fear that the move could prove disastrous for wildlife as well as the ecosystem.

Of the 11 mines up for auction, seven are virgin blocks, which require large-scale felling of trees before commencing the process of mineral extraction. Ten out of 11 mining blocks are iron ore mines, while one is a bauxite deposit.

Karlapat bauxite block, which is going to be auctioned, is the most controversial of all as it shares its border with Karlapat Sanctuary in Kalahandi district.

Activists pointed out that the Odisha Board for Wildlife, which met in April, discussed rationalisation of the boundary of Karlapat Sanctuary, keeping in mind the proposed bauxite mining.

One of the members raised concerns over bauxite reserves towards the southern part of the sanctuary. However, the board tried to sidestep the issue stating, “It (bauxite mining) is not the main consideration for exclusion of area. Rather, biotic pressure and degraded area are the main reasons. The net area of sanctuary is going to increase after the exercise.”

“Karlapat is a designated elephant corridor, besides being home to a range of wildlife. The mining would dry up 300 large and small streams flowing down from sanctuary. Instead of protecting the sanctuary, the government is out to destroy it. It will be detrimental to thousands of tribals depending on forest resources,” said Prafulla Samantra, who was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Biswajit Mohanty, who heads Wildlife Society of Orissa, a voluntary organisation, said, “The biggest concern in the latest auction bid is opening of virgin areas for mining. Almost all steel manufacturers have already been provided captive mines. As the iron ore demand is now peaking, merchant mining will finish the reserve in next few years.”

“The wildlife, especially elephants in Keonjhar district that has large iron deposits, is already cornered due to mindless mining. Wildlife would be pushed into an existential crisis if the government goes ahead with further mining,” pointed out Mr. Mohanty.

According to environmentalists, Keonjhar and Sundargarh will be impacted the most due to acceleration in mining.

The Keonjhar district administration’s estimate says a total of 2,555 million tonnes of iron ore are available as reserves in Keonjhar district. At the current rate of extraction of 55 million tonnes per year, the reserves will last for another 60 years. However, experts predict that as and when the global economy pulls itself out of the current slowdown, the rate of extraction will go up to 140 million tonnes per year, leading to exhaustion of the entire iron ore reserves of Keonjhar in a mere 23 years.

“Last year, we had protested against nine new mines. We had questioned the wisdom of digging large pits for iron ore extraction. Existing iron ore mines produce more than 160 million tonnes per annum, which far exceeds environmental load limit of Keonjhar and Sundargarh,” said Kiran Shankar Sahu, president of Keonjhar Citizen Forum.

“There is no need to produce more iron ore. Keonjhar cannot supply iron ore to the whole country at the cost of its indigenous people. We have got an estimate done that says for Gandhalpada iron block, 9 lakh trees would have to be felled. A majority of the trees are Sal. Last year’s notification for the block was withdrawn. But, the government has again notified auctioning of the block,” said Mr. Sahu.

Environmentalists are protesting against auctioning of all mines at one go. “The auctioning of mines would generate massive revenue for the government of the day. The mines would be leased out for 50 years. What happens to next governments, which would feel the revenue crunch?” he questioned.

Mr. Samantara concurred saying, “The government is just the trustee for the State’s natural resources. It is not the owner. It has no right to exhaust all resources, for which future generations would suffer.”

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 4:25:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/environmentalists-concerned-over-plan-to-auction-mining-blocks-in-odisha/article35620313.ece

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