Published: Friday, Jun 15, 2012, 12:47 IST | Updated: Friday, Jun 15, 2012, 12:48 IST
By Subir Ghosh | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA

The Indian mining industry has spiraled out of control, and the government has miserably failed to regulate it. The scale of lawlessness in the multi-billion dollar industry is hard to assess, and the industry has not only fuelled corruption, but also wreaked havoc on both local communities as well as the environment.

This overview of the mining industry comes from a 70-page report—Out of Control: Mining, Regulatory Failure, and Human Rights in India, released by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday. The report lays the blame squarely on the Indian government. “It has encouraged lawlessness by failing to enforce law or even monitor whether mine operators are complying with them,” HRW said.

The report delves deep into the reasons for the state of affairs – it says deep-rooted shortcomings in the design and implementation of key policies effectively left mine operators to supervise themselves. The pervasive lawlessness in the scandal-ridden mining industry is essentially the failure of governance.

The HRW report acknowledged it as a national problem, but narrowed down on illegal mining in Goa and Karnataka for its two well-documented case studies. The report talks of an annual rate of 30 criminal acts for every legitimate mining operation in the country, and goes on to show how even mines operating with the approval of government regulators are able to violate the law with impunity.

HRW researchers visited iron mining areas in Goa and Karnataka and found that reckless mine operators had destroyed or contaminated water sources people depend on for drinking water and irrigation. In some cases, miners even heaped waste rock and other mine waste near the banks of streams and rivers, leaving it to be washed into local water supplies or agricultural fields during the monsoon rains.

If this was not all, some operators punctured the local water table and then simply discarded the vast torrents of water that escape—permanently destroying a resource that entire communities rely on. Some farmers complained that endless streams of overloaded ore trucks passing along narrow village roads had left their crops coated in thick layers of metallic dust, destroying them, and threatening economic ruin.

Yet, it is not the ministry of mines that has been castigated – it is the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) which has been singled out for criticism by HRW. It talks of crucial environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports being extremely inaccurate, deliberately falsified, or both. The most bizarre case cited is that of a mine in Maharashtra being cleared even though its EIA report contained large amounts of data taken verbatim from a similar report prepared for a bauxite mine in Russia.

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