mynews.in, April 27, 2010
A lot is being written about the controversy surrounding a joint venture bauxite mining project of Sterlite (a Vedanta group company) and the Orissa government. Replace Vedanta with any other mining company, take away bauxite and swap it with coal or iron ore or limestone, the story is the same.
It is not about Vedanta versus tribals, it is basically against mining projects in tribal areas. People have poor perception of the mining industry and rightly so when you look at the damage done to the environment by small scale miners in areas like Bellary-Hospet in Karnataka or Barbil-Barajamda belt in Orissa/Jharkhand. These small scale unorganised miners have brought a bad name for the mining industry. However, there is a bright side to the mining industry too. Unfortunately, immense benefits that have accrued to local people from mining projects like Bailadila of NMDC in Bastar or Damanjodi bauxite project of Nalco in Koraput district of Orissa have been overlooked.
The fact is that the mining industry of the past as perceived and the mining industry of today are poles apart. The new age large mining companies both PSUs and MNCs involve the local population and look after their social welfare. These mining companies utilise the latest technology that is environment friendly and does the least damage to environment. In most cases, these companies leave a better and more productive land after mining is done. These companies spend a sizeable part of investment and later the profit on corporate social responsibility. This is true of NMDC mines in Chhattisgarh, Nalco mines in Damanjodi, Orissa and Tata Steel mines in Jharkhand and Orissa. In Damanjodi, after bauxite was mined, the whole mine was replaced by beautiful forest. NMDC’s Bailadila projects pay special attention to health, education, water supply and employment of local adivasis. The young generation of Adivasis were trained by the company in skills required for operating mines and the machines. Many of them have moved to other projects at higher positions. Large corporates, be it PSU or MNC or listed Indian group, are in compliance of all regulation and are also in constant public scrutiny and are fully conscious of their responsibilities.
An issue that gets generally raked up is mining and the tribal’s rights. The tribal areas, which stretch across eastern India from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh to Orissa, involve rampant cases of land grabbing, illegal mining by mining mafias and involvement of local corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, who marginalise and alienate tribals in their homelands, thus bringing bad name to the mining industry as a whole. However it is always the high profile companies, Indian as well as MNCs, that get caught in the cross fire and bear the brunt of resentment. Companies such as NMDC, Tata Steel, Nalco, Balco and Hindalco, have conducted themselves in most transparent and people friendly manner and have responsible policies towards social responsibilities and adherence to strict mining procedures balancing the ecosystem they operate in.
The government should refrain from giving mining licenses to small fly-by-night operators and instead encourage large mining companies to participate in the development of the resources and the area. The government should create CSR models similar to that of NMDC, Tata Steel or Nalco for local development and set up a mechanism to monitor the same.
It is easy to criticise any mining project based on inputs from few individuals’ even locals instigated by vested interests. Are they aware that every year hundreds of tribals of Kalahandi die of malnutrition? What have they done all these years to improve the living condition of these people? How do they plan to stop these deaths?
The only solution is to develop industries in these areas but with human face. The mining companies have to win over the people themselves by their positive actions.
Mining and the tribals have to co-exist for economic development of the country and its people. Let us not keep the people of Kalahandi or Bastar in rags all their life. Let them improve their lot by the industrial development of the area.
(The author is former chairman of NMDC and Rio Tinto in India)