People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 35

August 29, 2010



Illegal Mining


Country Suffers Collateral Damage As well


AS we go to press, the central government’s rejection of the permission sought by the Aluminium giant Vedanta to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa  has hit the headlines.  The central government had declared that Vedanta has seriously violated all the major laws like the Environment Protection Act, the Forest Conservation Act and the Forest Rights Act.  It has ordered a further investigation into the allegation that the bauxite currently being sourced by Vedanta from 14 Jharkhand mines comes from at least 11 that do not have a valid environmental clearance.  It is estimated  that if the clearance had been given,  in this instance, it would have led to the destruction of seven kilometers of forests that await inclusion in the Niyamgiri wildlife sanctuary.  This would also have dealt a devastating destruction of livelihood and habitation of the Dongaria Kondh  and Kutia Kondh tribal population who inhabit these forests.  


Notwithstanding the charges of `politicisation’ – one citing that this decision has come on the eve of Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the area to uphold the rights of the tribals, while another citing the fact that if such a permission was granted, then Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta would have outstripped Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance as the richest Indian – this  decision once again brings to the fore the crucial issue of the loot of our country’s mineral resources. 


The loot of our mineral resources, particularly illegal mining and illegal exports of such resources constitutes the worst case of `crony capitalism’ in India today.  Bellary and illegal iron ore exports have been figuring in the news for a long time now.   Worse is the fact that such loot of our mineral wealth is not confined to any one mineral or to any one state.   There is literally a  mine of information  in the answers given to parliamentary questions on the widespread loot of the country  through illegal mining and illegal exports in a  large number of states.  This represents a gigantic loot of the resources of our country. 


No country that aims to play an important global role can afford to permit such a loot.  The United States of America  does not today draw from its large oil reserves.  It imports nearly all its requirement of oil,  saving its own oil reserves for a future  possible emergency.  Similarly, our giant neighbour, China,  maintains its own mineral resources as a fall back option  when international resources dry up.  We, on the other hand, appear to be overactive in squandering our rich mineral resources that enormously profit a few people, mostly through sleaze. 


There is, thus, an urgent need for us to nationalise all mineral resources in our country and simultaneously ban all export of mineral resources from our country.  Those who wish to use our mineral resources are welcome  to set-up their production facilities in our country, thus adding value on our soil and providing employment to our people.  Our mineral wealth will, thus, expand our productive capacity.  This wealth cannot be allowed to be exported to other countries in order to increase their productive capacities at our cost.  This is precisely what is being allowed today that sustains the super profits generated by a few. 


The exposure of the Reddy Brothers  in Bellary is a revealing case in point.  The incumbent BJP chief minister of Karnataka,  in  a 21 page reply to some questions in the state assembly, said on July 10, 2010 that in the past seven years, more than 30 million tones of iron ore was illegally exported from the state of Karnataka alone.  At a conservative price of $ 150 per tonne, these illegal exports would value a staggering Rs 22,500 crore or more.  What is worse is the fact that  such loot has been happening through successive governments of different political parties in the state.  Investigations have shown that the entire administrative machinery, in one way or another,  is involved in facilitating such a loot. 


This issue of the loot of our mineral resources has implications that go beyond the domain of violation of law  and pecuniary gain.  To use the infamous US terminology, there is immense `collateral damage’ to the country. It has been estimated that over 1.6 lakh hectares of forest land have been diverted for mining.  With the levels of technology today, it is possible to recover our mineral wealth without  seriously damaging the environment.  Further, iron ore mining alone has used up 77 million tones of water in just one year, 2005-06. This water would have met the daily needs of nearly 3 million of our people who do not have potable water near their households or habitations. 


In 2006 alone, 1.84 billion tones of waste was dumped on the fertile land of our country due to such indiscriminate mining.  This adversely affects the fertility of our soil, and hence, agricultural productivity.  This is the `collateral damage’ that is taking place in terms of forest depletion, in terms of water that is being used up, which is a scarce resource in many parts of our country, in terms of dumping of waste on arable and fertile land  reducing the production of foodgrains. 


This is not all.  The collateral damage extends to negatively influencing our polity and democracy.  The ill-earned money  through illegal mining is vastly influencing the politics and government formations in various states of the country with Karnataka being the most glaring example.  The large-scale use of this ill-gotten money during elections  is distorting our parliamentary democracy  by forcing people not to vote on the basis of the policies of different political parties, but on the basis of the amount of money that they distribute to buy votes.  These expenditures put to shame the ceiling on electoral expenses put by the Election Commission. 


Further, the mapping of the areas of growing Maoist violence clearly shows that these are areas  that are rich in mineral deposits and areas predominantly inhabited by our tribal brothers and sisters.  The mining activities leading to large-scale displacement of tribal population in complete violation of the law of the land generates discontent that feeds the  political project of Maoist violence.  Thus, there is also a collateral damage in terms of strengthening those political forces which are completely opposed  and antithetical to the system of parliamentary democracy in our country. 


The issue of safeguarding our country’s rich mineral resources is no longer an issue of only preventing the loot of our precious resources or to bring to book the culprits who are making enormously huge profits  through illegal means. It is an issue of protecting our environment, our scarce resources, our democracy and our polity.  It is an issue of safeguarding the modern Indian Republic. 


In the 60th anniversary of our Republic, we need to take the bold step of nationalising all our mineral resources and banning of the export of these resources.  In the interest of modern India and the welfare of our people, sufficient pressure must be brought upon the central government, through popular mobilisations, to undertake such a course. 

(August 25, 2010)