Need for zero tolerance to mineral waste, eco-destruction, exploitation of women and children

minerals

Representation to Dr K Rajeswara Rao, additional secretary, Ministry of Mines, Government of India,  Dr Bhanumathi Kalluri, Director, Dhaatri Trust, Secunderabad, Telengana, and Dr Bhagyalakshmi, Director, Sakhi Trust, Hospet, Karnataka:

At the outset we are happy to know that the National Mineral Policy (NMP) of 2008 is being called for a review in this present context of crisis. However, we would to draw your attention that the composition of the committee formed to review the NMP is restricted to the Ministry of Mines and representatives from the mining industry, whereas mining operations have multiple impacts and multiple stakeholders. Reviewing the policy merely from the interest of the mining industry implies the conceptualisation of a policy based on a conflict of interest.

Minerals are a valuable natural resource of our country as stated in the NMP of 2008, but we also have to remember that they are more valuable because they are an exhaustible resource and mining operations in our country have a proven record of high levels of misuse and abuse, the loot of which has led to serious environmental, economic and social losses on a phenomenal scale. Hence, we agree that the mineral policy should be in alignment with the long term national goals of development but this alignment has to be not merely with ‘the changing needs of the mining industry’ as stated in the NMP but with the national and international goals of sustainable development which our Indian Constitution upholds and which India has ratified at international forums.

We also agree with the NMP that our country is blessed with mineral resources but again, we also have to remember that our country is blessed with several other valuable natural resources alongside minerals and hence any economic and development planning has to consider the balanced and sustainable use, conservation and protection of all resources as geological wealth of a habitat and as a symbiotic co-existence of all natural resources and human life. Hence, no economic policy can be based on the over-use of one resource at the cost of other valuable resources, species and life forms. The new NMP should emphasize this symbiotic model of sustainable development.

The NMP of 2008 lays down several commitments to ensuring local communities’ equity, environmental protection and scientific exploration and extraction practices, regulatory systems of transparency and many other compliance mechanisms. However, it is evident that since the 2008 policy to the present, the illegal mining operations was and is taking place at shocking levels of criminal theft of these valuable resources. We are allowing our future children to be bereft of this valuable wealth that belongs to them and this is a national criminal offence against our children.

Most of the workers are in the informal sector of both major and minor minerals, and local communities have serious impacts on their livelihoods, social security and natural resource depletion and pollution. Not only highly unscientific methods of mineral extraction and processing continues, but also the procedures of contractualisation of labour have led to highly unaccountable systems of management where both corporate bodies and state bodies can escape responsibility. The pending cases of victims of silicosis and other occupational diseases is one of the several examples of this unaccountability which is leading to gross violations of the human rights of women and children who are becoming more and more vulnerable to mine labour exploitation.

Our country has staggering numbers of widows and women suffering from occupational health diseases as a result of unmonitored and unregulated mining operations. Recent medical reports also reveal minor children suffering from these diseases as a result of working and living in mine sites. The Ministry of Labour faces several problems and lacunae in its ability to monitor and protect the rights and work safety standards of its women mine workers under the Mines Act of 1952, as a result of rampant mining, both legal and illegal.

Neither is it able to ensure mine closure plans being implemented to reclaim affected habitats and provide alternate livelihoods to local communities and workers. As a result of loss of existing livelihoods, forced migration and resultant problems of malnutrition, child labour, sexual abuse and violence are direct spill-over of post-mining witnessed in almost all mining areas and districts in the country.

Majority of the major mineral operations are located in the Fifth and Sixth Scheduled Areas where the displacement of STs has happened on a phenomenal scale with rehabilitation of affected communities being a myth of bureaucracy. Mining operations have not only displaced thousands of families, they have impacted the lands and livelihoods of much larger numbers through ground water depletion, air pollution, illegal expansion of mines and ancillary industries and for several other infinite needs of the industry.

In spite of the reports of the Supreme Court appointed committees like the Justice MB Shah Committee on illegal mining in Odisha and Goa, the Lokayukta report of Shri Hegde in Karnataka, and several Supreme Court orders as in the more recent writ petition of Common Cause Vs the Union of India and Others, we have been unable to arrest the illegal mining activities. Hence, we emphasize that the NMP should focus on minimizing mining until we have strong regulatory mechanisms, human resources and technical equipment at other the concerned ministries to ensure that constitutional laws are continuously adhered to.

We strongly emphasize that the Supreme Court’s directions to the Government of India for bringing out ‘a more effective, meaningful and implementable policy’ on mining be respected in its true spirit.  Hence, it is very urgent to review the NMP from this understanding of the high potential of abuse of constitutional laws and safeguards on several fronts and the glaring gaps in our regulatory, monitoring and implementation structures and willingness to value human life and environmental health.

Further, so far the mineral policy has not addressed the issue of gender parity in employment in the formal sector which stands at a pitiable level of 1-1.5% of the total labour force although it is estimated that more than 30% of women are in the informal sector in highly inhuman conditions of work. The importance of bringing visibility of women’s labour in the mines and the need for the policy to focus on extending training, technical skills building and job security for women needs to be emphasized by the new policy.

child minerals

Hence, the review of the NMP has to be done with strict adherence to due diligence procedures that can be set up for zero tolerance to mineral waste, environmental destruction, social exploitation especially of women and children. Whereas it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Mines to undertake mining, the National Mineral Policy, however, should be based on the more holistic model of social and environmental responsibility (sustainable development framework) that utilizes the mineral wealth with prudence towards maintaining a balanced development and that prioritises:

  • The health and well-being of children and women as its primary bench-mark of sustainable development;
  • The ecological balance between minerals and all other natural resources that form a geological eco-system and habitat.
  • Gender parity in the mining sector.

For this, we emphasize that the NMP bring its focus on a concrete plan of sustainable development framework after a thorough and detailed audit of existing and closed mines (legal, illegal, open pit, underground, major and minor) through transparent consultation and involvement of all affected sections of workers, communities and the public.

Further, we emphasize the need for the NMP to take serious steps towards:

  • Alignment of the policy with other social and environment policies and constitutional safeguards and not as the NMP nullifying and superseding all other laws and policies.
  • Immediate closure and rehabilitation of illegal mines and illegal mining affected people-workers, communities, natural resources.
  • Gender parity, technical training, skill building and employment for women in the formal sector and in the technical employment categories of mining to be an urgent priority of the new policy.
  • Immediate rehabilitation of all children and minors working in the mines and ancillary industries and declaring these industries as hazardous category. The legal protection of all children upto the age of 18 years and accounting for all children below the age of 18 as minors and as child labourers, rather than legitimizing child labour under the category of ‘apprentices’.
  • Implementation of the District Mineral Fund in all the affected districts and with a strong gender equity focus in participation, micro-planning and decision-making on the allocations and implementation. Transparency and disclosure of the utilization of the Fund to the public. The DMF should bring strong focus on rehabilitation of women and children, in addition to the existing schemes for women and children, and not as overlapping programmes of line departments. A substantial fund within the DMF to be allocated to widows of mine workers, silicosis victims and victims of occupational diseases and environmental pollution and contamination, HIV/AIDs, malnutrition, mine-accidents prevention and protection of women and children affected. Further, the immediate and urgent need to address the energy, water and food crisis that impact the lives of women and children due to the resource depletion caused by mining operations have to be forthwith taken up under the DMF. The constitution of the DMF committee should have equal representation of women from affected communities in each district.
  • Implementation of the Future Generation Fund and the Intergenerational Equity principle.
  • Immediate closure of all mines that do not have adequate work safety standards and facilities for the proper implementation of the Mines Act, 1952 especially for women workers and shelter for children and infants of all workers.
  • Insurance, accident benefits, pensions and other benefits for mine workers, especially women daily wage labourers in the informal sector.
  • NMP should come out with clear sub-policy commitments and commitment to financial allocations in convergence with other related ministries as in Silicosis Rehabilitation and Prevention Policy, Policy for Occupational Health and Safety, Protection of Women at the Mines from Sexual Harassment, Zero Child Labour policy, Policy for Free, Prior, and informed Consent of STs, etc.
  • Change the policy of sub-contractualisation of mine labour and make it compulsory for companies to declare all direct and indirect mining operations, registration of labour in all activities of extraction, processing, transportation and trade and sources of procurement.
  • Review of viability of extraction and Energy utilization for extraction and processing: A review of the capacities, utilization and need for rationalisation of captive power plants, thermal projects and the environmental pollution and use of women and children in loading and unloading activities at night in these activities.
  • This leads to the need for more stringent review of work safety of all mines, review of concerned ministries and statutory bodies in technical equipment for identification, diagnosis, certification and treatment of occupational diseases and mine safety of all workers.
  • Minimising mining in Fifth Schedule Areas: The Supreme Court orders and observations on the issue of ST culture, particularly from the position of ST women and negative cultural impacts should be taken with utmost seriousness as an impact assessment indicator.
  • Bringing corporate accountability to women and children should be a focus of the NMP. The implementation of gender equity through equal employment opportunities for women and daughters, especially of affected communities in the formal employment of mining companies; sexual harassment prevention standards and punitive actions, fund for single mothers, unwed mothers, widows of mine workers and other vulnerable women and children should be declared. Companies should take immediate responsibility for sexual offences of women workers and women in communities within their operating areas (both direct and sub-contracted areas). Environmental damages complaints mechanisms and regeneration systems, review of monitoring standards and systems at the pollution control boards, should forthwith be brought into the formal Social Impact Assessment procedures as periodic reviews with concerned regulatory bodies and affected communities (including equal participation of women) in the decision-making committees.

We hope that you will take our observations and recommendations into consideration as we are working with the women and children who are suffering grievously from the negative impacts of indiscriminate and unscientific abuse of minerals. We will be happy to contribute for further discussions over this important policy.

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