Monday, July 22, 2024

Licentious mining: Damn the Environment


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That 1700 mines and quarries across Meghalaya are operating without any legal sanction and without any punitive action from the State Forest authorities informs that any concern for the environment is all lip service. In a political system where the political class has to pander to the demands of the business magnates unless there is a strong movement to protect the environment things are only going to reach a point of environmental cataclysm. Just before the monsoons arrived the state of Meghalaya’s rivers and reservoirs were in the danger zone. The 1855 mines that were surveyed via satellite only give a picture of the broken earth surface where mines and quarries have been dug. The satellite does not capture sand mining from rivers which is going on relentlessly. This unnatural anthropogenic intervention could result in the death of rivers.
Environmental experts contend that sand mining is unsustainable because it transforms the structure of rivers. By removing more sand than the river can naturally replace with the sediment it carries downstream, sand mining carves a deeper, narrower bed. This lowers the water level, speeds up flow and erodes banks – reducing the watershed’s capacity to absorb excess water during floods. It also impacts biodiversity by degrading habitats that fish and other species depend on. As the river bed deepens, the water table falls. With growing demand for water, the pressure on ground water reserves increases, leading in turn to further land subsidence, and further flood risks. It’s a vicious cycle that people don’t think about. It’s a fact that the limestone and boulders which are both considered as minor minerals don’t have to go through the tougher processes laid out by the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation (MMDR) Act last amended in 2023. Under section 15 of the above Act the State Governments are empowered to grant mining rights but with the rider that such mines/quarries should not be carried out in forest land and that there should be a properly formulated eco-restoration plan. Indeed all mining/quarrying activities are supposed to be done while keeping into consideration the environmental factors as well as the rehabilitation of the areas affected.
But as is evident in Meghalaya no one really cares about rules and laws and neither is there anyone to strictly implement such rules or laws. This despite the fact that a mining license are procured only after a series of requirement including a ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC) from the Divisional Forest Officer for forest clearance, no matter if the mining area is within a reserved forest or outside it and under the purview of the District Councils. There is also a body called the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) headed by an environmental expert. Is the SEIAA blind to the gross violations of mining laws? Or is the Authority toothless? If so, what’s the need for such an Authority? The same goes for the Pollution Control Board and the Directorate of Mining. The question then is – up to what point is mining sustainable in a fragile ecological system – a biodiversity hotspot that Meghalaya is part of?

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