India is rich in minerals, most of which lies in remote forested areas of Orissa, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, inhabited by tribals, adivasis and poor people. After liberalization, private companies started playing an important and bigger role in the mining sector. The need of a new mineral policy (NMP) was felt then. So, the UPA government came with the new policy NMP 2008 in April, 2008.
Mining is a short-term activity, but, has long term effects. It is an unsustainable activity, based on extraction of non-renewable resources. So, it was initially expected that, NMP 2008 will take into consideration environmental protection and suggest a framework for sustainable development of the mining sector. But, later we saw that, its emphasis only was on maximizing the benefits of mining for economy and short on measure to alleviate the social and environmental destruction that mining activity inevitably brings in its wake. Mining has serious consequences, like, displacement of people, deforestation, environmental degradation, water scarcity etc, that should be addressed in a mineral policy with attention.
To make the atmosphere conducive for investment and technology flow, we are accepting every demand that international mining companies may have. It is true that a country needs minerals for growth and infrastructure development. But, it is also true that the over-consumption by one community is killing another. Decades of mining have not contributed much for betterment of life of local people, mainly in case of tribals and adivasis. Our government and private companies say that the mining complex will help adivasis, which is surely wrong. The Singhbhum district for example, which is an abundant source of iron ore and where 65% population is adivasi and 50% is below poverty line. Large scale mining has not brought any progress in their lives. In districts (more than 100), where mining work is going on, are among 200 poorest and most backward districts of country, according to the Planning Commission.
The definition of fundamental rights given by our constitution fades in these areas. Here, right to protest, even peacefully, is not recognized by authorities and usually met with repression. In Orissa alone, more than 1.4 million people have been displaced, mostly adivasis. Forest department see them as encroachers and not allow them to cultivate land, they had worked on for decades. These evictions are illegal, as most tribals settled here before 1980.
In the tribal areas, panchayats have been dis-empowered, so they can’t raise their voice. After 60 years of so called freedom, their socio-economic status is far from being satisfactory. They don’t have access to education, health care and legal redress. In our metro cities, people think someone has to pay the price for development, look at the developed countries, they also did it at their time. Now, we the citizens of our country, government, law and order everyone is going against them. So, what options do you think we left for them? They believe that they deserve justice. They believe that inequality of our society can only be redressed by the violent overthrow of the Indian state. They don’t care, what others think about them. They are just out there and continue fighting for their rights.
Now in order to keep their citizens free from these dangerous people, the government has declared a war on them, famously known as Operation Green Hunt, as most of them have joined naxalism or Maoism. Who are these Maoists? Are they members of banned a Communist Party of India(M), which led to the 1969 Naxalite uprising and was subsequently liquidated by the Indian government. And, what kind of war is Operation Green Hunt . Will we ever know? As no news comes out of forest. When Maoists kill anyone, all the TV channels publicize news, but when our army kill them, no news comes out of the forest. Media is not interested in the other side. This war is against the Maoists but the real beneficiaries are the international mining companies. Policies are framed that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of people’s land and resources.
If we think, we will not be affected by the war, then we have to think again. Because there is a strong relation between social injustice, naxalism, poverty and uncertainty of a bright future. If we mix two maps, one showing India’s forest and minerals and other showing poorest people (tribals). By the common map, we will get the spread of naxalite movement.This mining activity needs to be strictly controlled at all the stages. People living in mining areas should have the capacity to take fully-informed decisions on allowing mining in their territories, or how to carry out the activity and ensure environmental conservation and social justice. We have to understand that, people’s court exists, only because India’s courts are out of reach of ordinary people.
Vineet Kumar Singh