Consultations in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Delhi on impact of mining on livelihood, health

Counterview.org | Oct 04, 2019

A series of civil society consultations were held in Udaipur (Rajasthan), Bhavnagar (Gujarat), Dahanu (Maharshtra) and Constitution Club of India (New Delhi) on adverse impact of mining on people’s livelihood and health, especially vulnerable sections such as tribals, women and children, and how illegal mining has made things worse. Detailed notes of each of the consultations:

mining

Udaipur, Rajasthan, 24th September 2019:

A day long State Level Consultation was held on 24th September 2019 at Kisan Bhavan, Udaipur. The consultation saw activists from Udaipur, Jodhpur, Barmer, Banswara, Dungarpur, Nagaur, Rajsamand and Sirohi deliberating on the impact of mining on women and children, occupational health hazards, illegal mining, zinc mining in Jawar mines region, District Mineral Foundation (DMF), intergenerational equity, environmental impacts of mining and other development projects, Forest Rights Act (FRA) rights of the Scheduled Tribes, PESA and Vth Schedule. The consultation was chaired by Mr. Ravi Rebbapragada, Chairperson, mines, mineral & People (mm&P), along with Mr. Ashok Shrimali, Secretary General, mm&P, Mr. Mithun Raj, Director, Samata, and other Executive Committee members.

Sadhana Meena, EC Member from Udaipur, shed light on the impact of zinc mining in the region. Zinc mining and smelting activities are some of the primary sources of heavy metals pollution in the environment. Excessive zinc intake can cause stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting; high-dose, long-term zinc exposure can affect cholesterol balance, diminish immune system function, and even cause infertility. Mine discharges into the Tiri river inundates its floodplains.

Udaipur

The hazardous deposits from the mines are mixed with the top soil affecting the cultivation of crops. The contaminated water is leading to communicable diseases. Stunting, biological disorders at birth are increasing among the new born in the villages surrounding Jawar mines. Occupational health hazards are also affected the community working in mines and staying close to the mines.

Ashok Shrimali and Mithun Raj spoke about the huge unspent funds in the DMFs of the state. The state has a total of 15,424 mining leases and DMF collection stands at Rs. 2,249 crores. However, the utilization has been poor. The high priority areas of health, drinking water, education, welfare of women and children and disabled, skill development and sanitation are sidelined for giving way to infrastructure projects, which is not a priority sector.

Silicosis is another major issue in the sandstone and marble mines in Rajasthan. According to reports more than 40% of the workers suffer from silicosis which is often misdiagnosed as tuberculosis. The reasons for death of workers is majorly due to delayed diagnosis or mistreatment. Participants said that in most of the cases the death of the workers is because of delay in getting the paperwork done in the hospitals and government offices. The compensation given to the victims’ families is not adequate and the procedure to claim this compensation is very tenuous. As a consequence women in most cases face harassment at the hands of the officers.

As a way forward to the discussion on the pressing issues, Samata activists and other participants agreed to organize a capacity building and training workshop in Banswara to help community volunteers and paralegals engage with the government.

Bhavnagar, Gujarat, 26th-27th September 2019:

A two-day State Level Consultation was held in Bhavnagar, Gujarat on 26th-27th September, 2019. The aim of the consultation was to discuss and raise pressing issues relating to the mining sector in India and its impact of various stakeholders. The themes of the discussion were women and children in mining areas, DMF, FRA, illegal mining, coastal mining, impact of cement and other industries on the environment and water in Bhavnagar.

Attended by 56 participants from various parts of Gujarat affected by mining, the consultation was chaired by Mr. Ravi Rebbapragada, Chairperson, mm&P, Mr. Ashok Shrimali, Secretary General, mm&P, Mr. Mithun Raj, Director, Samata, and other Executive Committee members.

The consultation was addressed by Anand Yagnik, senior advocate, Gujarat High Court, and Dr. Kanubhai Kalsaria, former MLA of Mahua. A public meeting was also organized at Uncha Kotada on the issue of UltraTech mining.

DMF: According to the government data Gujarat has a total collection of Rs. 610 crores under DMF. However only Rs. 200 crores has been utilized so far. Specific to Bhavnagar district the collection has been Rs.15 crore and sanctioned amount has been Rs. 4 crores. This indicates huge amounts of unspent money lying with the district offices across Gujarat.

Impacts of coastal limestone mining: UltraTech Cement Ltd has been mining limestone in the coastal areas of Mahuva and Talaja villages in Bhavnagar, which is spread over 1715.2 hectares over 13 villages. The villagers and social activists claim that the mining is happening without complying to environmental norms. Limestone mining makes the nearby water saline and leads to dryland salinity.

gujarat

Salinity is one of the most brutal environmental factors limiting the productivity of crops because most of the plantations here are sensitive to salinity caused by high concentrations of salts in the soil, and the area of land affected by it is increasing day by day. Streams and rivers can be altered when mines pump excess water from a limestone quarry into downstream natural channels. This increases the danger of flooding, and any pollutants or changes in water quality affects the surface water.

As water and rock are removed from mines, the support they give to underground features is gone, creating sinkholes. The Bhavnagar district is considered the onion capital of India. Along with export of onions to other parts of the country, dehydrated onions are also exported across the world. Mining takes away the only source of income of the farmers in the region. It will have huge toll on the lives and livelihood of the farmers.

The region is known for cotton mills employing nearly 2,500-3,000 people every season. Limestone mining in the region will have negative impact on the growth of cotton affecting the agroindustry. The rich landscape of Gujarat will be adversely affected by this sort of large-scale mining. The migratory birds and Asiatic lions will be in danger as mining is proposed close to the natural habitats of these species.

Way Forward: It was decided that the issue of coastal mining will be taken up legally with the help of lawyers and community volunteers. Petitions of violation of the guidelines of Environmental Impact Assessment will be brought to the forefront. In the case of unspent funds, community members are determined to file RTIs and persuade the district administration to use the DMF funds for the development of the mining affected areas.

Dahanu, Maharashtra, 29th September, 2019:

A day long State Level Consultation was held on 29th September 2019 in Dahanu, Maharashta. The consultation deliberated on the effects of mining on women and children, Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), bullet train, illegal mining, DMF, intergenerational equity, environmental impacts of mining and other development projects, FRA, rights of the Scheduled Tribes, PESA and Vth Schedule. The consultation was chaired by Mr. Ravi Rebbapragada, Chairperson, mm&P, Mr. Ashok Shrimali, Secretary General, mm&P, Mr. Mithun Raj, Director, Samata, and other executive Committee Members.

Raju Pandhara, EC Mmember from Maharashtra, spoke about DMIC and expansion of urban municipalities displacing tribal population to a great extent. The DMIC project is set to displace 16% of the total population of India majority of whom will be tribals.

dahanu

Ashok Shrimali spoke about the big picture of bullet train. He said that the state governments are violating the Land Acquisition Act to accommodate the interests of the private firms. Adivasis’ and farmers’ lands are being taken away without consent. If they dissent, farmers are arrested. The qestion is how will the marginal farmers benefit from bullet train. On 14 November, 2017, Maharashtra governor C Vidyasagar Rao issued a notification, according to which gram sabha consent is no longer required for the purchase of tribal-owned land by the state government for “vital” public projects. This is violation of PESA. The villagers are facing double displacement — the locals are already victims of dam displacement.

Maharashtra has a total DMF collection of approximately Rs. 1100 crores. However, the participants said that the utilization is skewed. The spending on the welfare of women and children is very low.

As a way forward it has been decided that the bullet train and DMIC issue will be taken up legally and DMF utilization through influencing the district administration.

National Conference on Silicosis, 30th September 2019, Constitution Club of India, New Delhi:

The history of silicosis is thousands of years old. Prisoners of war in ancient times were forced to work in mines. They would die of silicosis as a form of torture. However, even today in independent India thousands of workers of India lose their life due to occupational health diseases. As the ILO rightly recognizes, “Work kills more people than war”. Silicosis is a serious occupational health hazard in India, especially among mine workers. The deadly disease silicosis continues to silently workers.

Thousands of mine workers die before reaching the age of 40. According to studies, 10 million miners working in the mining sector are exposed to silica dust. It is also reported that 50 per cent of miners are found to be suffering from silicosis in any given age group. Radiological investigations conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research found that 56 per cent of mine workers in Rajasthan are affected with silicosis or silica-tuberculosis.

Given the urgency of the problem where thousands of workers and families are suffering from silicosis and other occupational health diseases, the National Conference on Silicosis was organized by Samata, mm&P, PRASAR, Gravis, Directorate General of Health, Government of Delhi, Daang Vikas Sansthan and HEDCON on 30th September, 2019 at the Constitution Club of India. The conference was attended by medical doctors, social activists, members of trade unions, Delhi Government employees, members of media, industry and mine workers, victims of silicosis, widows of silicosis workers and students.

Mr. Ashok Shrimali, Secretary General, mm&P, said that though some states like Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana have come up with Silicosis Rehabilitation Policies for affected families, the implementation is skewed. The process of identification, diagnosis and compensation is faced by administrative bottlenecks. One of the first problems faced is the insistence on workers producing their job cards, certificate of registration with their employers/mine owners, which is impossible to obtain in most cases. Another important issue is the misdiagnosis of silicosis as tuberculosis. Interstate migration needs to be addressed.

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Mr. Bansilal Bhinjana, Mr. K.V Pratap and Mr. Swaraj Das who work with labour unions in Rajasthan, Telangana and West Bengal spoke about the double bind that the women face due to silicosis — they are either single parents and/or are themselves victims of silicosis, but still have the burden of sustaining their families. Even when aware that their entry into mine and industries is a death-trap, their economic helplessness is forcing them to join the mine labour force along with their minor children in illegal and inhuman conditions. This vicious cycle of inter-generational trap of poverty induced silicosis needs to be urgently tapped.

Shri Faggan Singh Kulaste, MoS, Ministry of Steel, who has also served the portfolio of Health Ministry in the past, made a very impactful presentation on the state of health, especially in the rural areas. He said, health safety has many dimensions and extends to the people exposed to second hand dust, i.e. those who live nearby the mines and industry. Unfortunately, the health of the workers is of least concern to the government and the corporates. The major concern is only the profits made from the projects.

Shri Ashwini Kumar Choubey, MoS, Ministry of Health, spoke about the traditional medicines that India is proud of, how it complements the Ayushman Bharat Mission of the government. Thus, an important message to mankind is to think and rethink about the importance of health of the workers. The government is slowly taking steps to improve the condition of labourers. He asked all the people to pledge to work for eradicating the harms of occupational health issues.

Given this scenario of silicosis in the country there is an urgent need for

  • detailed listing of all mineral/industry specific occupational and respiratory health problems be undertaken by respective labor departments.
  • training to medical doctors and the community to treat and identify silicosis
  • state governments to undertake proper record, identification, diagnosis and treatment of silicosis with proper procedures for enumeration, registration of affected workers and their families.
  • take strict steps for misdiagnosis as medical negligence is a criminal offense.
  • there is a need for convergence of Ministries at the policy level. Such as convergence of Labor Ministry, Mines Ministry and Health Ministry.
  • the Silicosis Monitory boards should have representation form the silicosis affected people.
  • address lack of data availability and documentation.
  • the rehabilitation policy needs to rethought through. The present compensation only addresses an emergency and does not help in rehabilitation.
  • the interstate migrants need to be recognized and their rights given.
  • Work safety technology needs to be upscaled.