EC clearance to Ultratech contrary to dictum: Limestone underground helps land remain fertile

824710-illegalmining-051819

Gujarat Khedut Ekta Manch president Sagar Rabari’s letter to the Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, Government of India, seekingcancelation of the Environment Clearance certificate granted to M/s Ultratech Cement Ltd for Talli and Bambhor village in Bhavnagar District, Gujarat: 

Reference your communication dated 5th January, 2017 to M/s. Ultratech Cement Ltd, as a non-profit farmers’ organization working on issues of agriculture and rural economy, we would like to draw your attention to the very serious issues emerging in the wake of limestone mining lease granted to M/s UltraTech Cement Ltd. in Talli and Bambhor, of Talaja taluka of Bhavnagar district in Gujarat.

We write to draw your attention to the fact that the Environmental Clearance (EC) has been granted on the basis of:

  1. the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report prepared which contains false information, misreporting and misleading interpretation of data, and, concealment of facts;
  2. Flouting of the terms and conditions of the various Acts and laws of the GoI and GoG.

The details of false information, misreporting and misleading interpretation of data are as follows.

The present project of limestone mining is spread over an area of approx. 1715.1311 hectares over 13 villages of Talaja (Jhanjmer, Talli, Methala, Madhuvan, Raliya, Gadhula, Bambhor, Nava Rajpara, Juna Rajpara) and Mahuva (Nicha Kotda, Uncha Kotda, Dayal, Kalsaar) talukas of Bhavnagar district. The following documents have been scrutinized for the purposes of the present submission.

  1. ToR prescribed by MoEFCC on 8th 2016 (for villages Talli and Bambhor, Tal. Talaja, Dist. Bhavnagar)
  2. The EIA Report submitted to MoEFCC in August 2016 (for villages Talli and Bambhor, Tal. Talaja, Dist. Bhavnagar)
  3. The EC granted to M/s UltraTech Cement Ltd. on 5th January 2017 for villages Talli and Bambhor of Taluka Talaja, Dist. Bhavnagar).

Our submissions to you are:

At the outset, we submit that the EIA report submitted to you (for villages Talli and Bambhor of Talaja taluka) flouts one of the main conditions of the ToR. The ToR mentions (pg. 1 of ToR) that:

“It was reported by the PP that there is no Wildlife Sanctuaries, National Park, Biosphere Reserve, and Wildlife corridors, Tiger/Elephant Reserves, within 10 km. radius of the project site.”

In this connection, in the EIA Report (p. 25, pt. 1.3.1 Table 1.1, D 5) it states:

Particulars Details
National Parks, Wild Life Sanctuaries, Biosphere Reserves etc., Reserved /Protected Forest within 10 Km radius study area There is no National Park, Wild Life Sanctuary, Biosphere Reserve, Tiger Reserve, Ramsar Site and Wildlife Corridor etc. within 10 km radius.

Methala Protected Forest is present at approx. 4.3 km from mining lease boundary.

This information is false. The letter from the Deputy Forest Officer in Bhavnagar (p. 241 of EIA Report) clearly states that “As per Ministry of Forest & Environment, Gujarat Government Notification WLP-1107-572-G1 Dated 18.05.2007 this area has been declared as GREATER GIR (Bruhad GIR)”. Gir Forest National Park is a wildlife sanctuary and is the well-known abode of the Asiatic lions, along with leopards and antelopes. Gir Jungle Trail, outside the fenced area, traverses deciduous forest and is home to wildlife including vultures and pythons.

In pt. 4 it states that, “The said area is falls within underlist-1 as reserved for wild animals like leopard, lion, wolf, peacock and sea lion corridor.”

In pt. 5 it further states that “There is an application with government to declare said area as conservation reserve.”

In response to an RTI application filed by Shri Bharatsinh Popatbhai Vala the office of the Range Forest Officer, Wild life Range, Talaja, Forest Colony, Opp. Jafari school, Gopnath Road, Talaja- 364140, states that:

  1. 3 lions and 8-9 leopards live in the Talaja Tauka forest range. Details of the compensation amount paid to the owners of cattle killed by these animals is attached.
  2. The lions and leopards roam in this area, the leopard lives in secluded places.
  3. They have also provided a list of wild animals and birds that fall under Schedule –1.

In point 3 it states that: “Above area comes under radius if 16 Kilometers from your applied area and CRZ comes under 900 Meters radius”. (sic)

Therefore their claim in the EIA that “there is no National Park, Wildlife Sanctuary … within a 10 km. radius” of the mining site is false.

gr

The indiscriminate mining leases granted in the area Gir sanctuary attracted strictures from the Hon’ble HC of Gujarat for the irreversible damage it does to the lion habitat. The 2 newspaper reports cited below will clarify the point (click HERE and HERE).

Palitana, Jesar, Talaja and Mahuva talukas of Bhavnagar and nearby Rajula taluka is the natural habitat of the Asiatic lions which have been found loitering in the villages.

As per the lion count in 2015, 37 lions were counted in Bhavnagar district of the total 523 in Gujarat i.e. 7% lion population is residing in Bhavnagar, and are the precise talukas where EC is given.

In the area where the mining lease is given to UltraTech, lions and other migratory birds have been spotted many times. This mining and heavy traffic activity will endanger the protected animal and birds.

For this reason alone, we feel, this Environment Clearance ought to be cancelled forthwith.

Our second submission to you is that the present project of limestone mining is spread over an area of approx. 1715.1311 hectares over 13 villages of Talaja (Jhanjmer, Talli, Methala, Madhuvan, Reliya, Gadhula, Bambhor, Nava Rajpara, Juna Rajpara) and Mahuva (Nicha Kotda, Uncha Kotda, Dayal, Kalsaar) talukas of Bhavnagar district. M/s UltraTech Cement Ltd. has been given 3 different leases for limestone mining spread over these 13 villages. The first one has been operationalized in June 2019 in Talli and Bambhor villages, which the present EPA deals with.

However, all the 13 villages are contiguous villages and the buffer zone of one lease area becomes the core zone of the other lease area, and vice versa. The separate EIAs and EPHs are a ploy to hide the entirety of the bio-diversity, flora and fauna, endangered and protected wildlife as well as minimize (on paper) the tremendous loss of livelihoods and the irreversible damage to the numerous water bodies that the project will unleash. It is a ploy to ultimately mislead the Ministry and the public at large. Hence, our submission is that the entire mining operation over these 13 villages be treated as one project. Only then can the magnitude of the adverse impacts on water, water bodies, livelihoods, health, wildlife habitat, salinity ingress, coastal mangroves and marine life be accurately assessed.

Point no. 9 of the ToR states that “The study area will comprise of 10 km. zone around the mine lease from lease periphery …” If the entire area is treated as one project then “the 10 km. zone around the mine lease” would extend to the “Greater Gir” (Talaja, Palitana, Mahuva, Rajula, Liliya, Jafrabad, Jesar talukas; GR vapasa/102018/SF17/W –Dated 300319) and the lion habitat which, as per the present report, falls in the Buffer Zone would come in the Core Zone of the mine lease.

Treating the entire project as one would also bring about the appreciation of the presence of Bagad river (seasonal), Kalsar bandharo (embankment), Dayal bandharo, and the recently built Methala bandharo. All these water bodies fall not only within the mining zone of 1711 ha. but,  (the Methala and Dayal Bandharas falls in the Core zone of the mine) as per Table 3.27 and (the Kalsar Bandharo) (pg 110) in the “primary zone (0-3 km.)”. Treating the 3 mines as separate means that the PP is able to mislead the MoEFCC to escape disclosing the adverse effects of mining on these water bodies and the consequent adverse impacts on the people of the area and their livelihood.

There are 2 LoIs issued by the Department of Industry and Mines (see Annexure 1, EIA page 226-227): the first one on 21/07/1999 for villages Methla, Madhuvan, Jhanjhmer, Rajpara and Raliya (Talaja taluka) and another one on 04/06/2001 for villages Bambhor, Talli (of Talaja taluka). Order No. : MCR/102012/1248/Chh, Date: 09/07/2015, of Department of Industry and Mines, Government of Gujarat (Annexure 1) also mentions all 3 sites in one GR and as such treats the three as one project only.

The letter of the Office of the Deputy Forest Conservator (Bhavnagar Division, Bahumali Bhavan, Annexe Building F 9/10, Bhavnagar in his letter no. 3464/65 of 2016-17 (EIA page 232 and current pdf page 275 states that:

  • Above area (i.e. of Talli and Bambhor) comes under radius if 16 Kilometres from your applied area and CRZ comes under 900 Meters radius
  • The said area is falls within underlist-1 as reserved for wild animals like leopard, lion, wolf, peacock& sea lion corridor
  • There is an application with government to declare said area as conservation reserve
  • Ocean life is also there like turtle
  • Core zone and buffer zone includes many depleted species of trees
  • Buffer zone include CHER (i.e. mangroves) sea forest
  • Reserved forest falls near to your applied area.

This is crucial information, and as such, the presence of lions, leopards, and Mangroves makes it an eco-sensitive zone. An activity such as mining in such a fragile environment can create havoc and destroy the area and the people living there.

The permission for limestone mining was sought by M/s Indian Rayon Co. Ltd. from Dept. of Industry and Mines, GoG in 1997. The Letter of Intent (LoI) for the mining lease was granted in 1999 and 2001 by Department of Industry and Mines, GoG, to Grasim Industry Ltd. The inordinate delay in commencing mining operations is untenable under any law; the first LoI was issued in 2001; the first EPH was held in 2015 (a delay of 14 years); actual mining commenced in 2019 (18 years).

The final LoI of 2015 was only in view of the name changes and hence is of no consequence in considering the merits of the case.

In the EIA Report, ToR Compliance Report (pt. 29) the ToR of the MoEFCC demands details of streams passing through the area to which the PP has stated that there “is no stream passing through the lease area”

Particulars Details
Details of any stream, seasonal or otherwise, passing through the lease area and modification / diversion propose, if any, and the impact of the same of the hydrology should be brought out There is no stream passing through the lease area.

This is a blatant suppression of data since the river Bagad (a seasonal stream) passes through the villages. Also, the Methala Bandharo, proposed and sanctioned by the GOG but not built, was built by the farmers themselves in 2018, a Dayal Bandharo built by the GOG and a village pond deepened by the GOG funds in Kotada village are already existing but not shown by the PP.

The PP is withholding this information in order to circumvent the stringent conditions pertaining to water bodies. Even if the EIA, Public hearing and EC are treated as separate, the mining lease and its impact on local environment and livelihood must be studied/evaluated/looked holistically, not separately.

The EIA report, on pg. 56, mentions the average rainfall of Bhavnagar district, which is 689 mm. – better than the all-India average, which is 300-650 mm. and the average rainfall for Saurashtra and Kutch which is 578 mm. However, the EIA ought to have given the average rainfall figures for Talaja taluka, which is 850 mm., far better than Saurashtra and Kutch and also Bhavnagar district. The district receives much better rainfall, which data is sought to be suppressed.

The EIA report provides the land use/land cover details of the Buffer Zone in Table 3.1 (pg. 52). The table is reproduced below.

Land Use /Land Cover Details of Study Area

S. No. LU/LC Class Area in hectare % Area
1. Sea / Ocean 13146.85 34.33
2. River / canal 170.13 0.44
3. Ponds / Reservoir 99.29 0.26
4. Open Land 431.30 1.13
5. Open Scrub Land 2528.31 6.60
6. Plantation / vegetation/Forest 1126.30 2.94
7. Fallow Land 6330.04 16.53
8. Crop Land 13375.34 34.92
9. Human Settlement 412.75 1.08
10. Marshy Land 679.65 1.77
  Total 38299.96 100.00

Source: Latest Resource Sat-2 Satellite Imagery

If we deduct the “sea/ocean” category from this calculation then the proportion of crop land becomes 53.17% of the total land. Which means that the proportion of land under cultivation is more than half of the total land, and proves beyond doubt the over whelming dependence of the local population on agriculture for their livelihood.

Soil erosion and soil degradation: The PP’s own admission in the EIA Report (pg. 52) is to the effect that the mining activity will disturb the agricultural land. It explains under section “Impact on the Core Zone”:

“Based on the present LULC it is concluded that: a) most part of the mining lease area is covered by fertile agriculture land which will convert to mining area. b) Talli and Bambhor villages are located adjacent to the Mining Lease area which may be disturbed due to heavy transportation and activity.” (sic)

It is observed that, wherever there is limestone underground the land is fertile and agriculture is prosperous. On the seashore from Ghogha to Porbandar, the coastal area is fertile, and the rich agriculture there is known in local language as “Lili Nagher” – the lush green. Inland area away from seashore is comparatively less fertile. On the seashore, sweet water availability is also due to the limestone. The site where mining is permitted – the Mahuva and Talaja talukas – are known as Kashmir of Saurashtra. Horticulture is widely practised here, especially coconut plantations and the world famous JAMADAR mango, which are now under danger of extinction.

The process of mining will entail excavation, manual shattering of rocks, loading and transportation, etc. The dust disbursed during these processes will settle on the nearby fields, water bodies and standing crops. The soil dug from the mine would be dropped from a height making the dust to disburse in the air and deposit on the land rendering the soil sterile. The net effects will be:

  • erosion of the top soil
  • existing land becomes unfit for cultivation because of dumping of solid waste, probably leading to desertification
  • standing crops are adversely affected due to dust disbursed in the air, stunting the growth of plants and crops
  • cotton, groundnut, onion, garlic, jowar, millet and other vegetables will be badly affected by the dust and water pollution.

It has been reported by various studies, in India and internationally, that mining activity results in making deep pits which in turn causes ground water table to go down. The contamination of surface water due to dumping of solid waste and dust resulting in contamination of tanks, rivulets, rivers, open wells and ground water as well.

Salinity ingress

Gujarat being a state with the longest coastline in India, is one of the states with a problem of high salinity ingress. Bhavnagar district is a coastal district and is also affected by salinity ingress which threatens agriculture, water quality and overall health of the people. One of the (effective/successful) measures for checking salinity ingress is the embankment (bandharo). While the GoG and the GoI spend many millions of rupees carrying out studies and making recommendations to the effect that embankments should be built, the MoEFCC and the GoG go and give out mining leases in these same areas which threaten the embankment (as shown in the following point).

Impact on the embankments (bandharo)

The Kalsar bandharo (embankment) in village Kalsar, built by GoG, in 2002.

Having waited in vain for the GoG to build the dam, the people of villages Methala and Kotada decided to build the check dam themselves by raising the finance for it from among themselves and other donors. They started the work on 6th April 2018 and completed it in June 2018. The total cost of the entire operation was around Rs. 45,00,000/-. This year (April and May 2019) they strengthened the structure by spending around Rs. 7,40,000/-. In total people have spent Rs. 52,00,000/- to build 1.3 km long bund + 300-meter concrete structure to allow the excess water to pass whereas the GoG’s estimate for the same was Rs. 80 crores/-. This check-dam will enrich the groundwater quality; irrigate thousands of acres of land of around 7 villages.

Now, with the mining lease given by the MoEF these water bodies are threatened, being adjacent to the mining site. The mining operations will release dust in the air which will settle on to the surface of the water, percolate to the wells and pollute the ground water.

The water preserved in the Methala Bandharo (Bagad river) will percolate to the mine, and will thus destroy the purpose of this water body built by the farmers to irrigate their land.

The embankment means that there is a shift from ground water irrigation to surface water irrigation which is a highly recommended measure to check groundwater depletion. The mining will force the farmers to revert back to groundwater irrigation further endangering the already dangerous levels of groundwater.

Salinity Control

“6.25 The age old method for controlling the salinity in coastal areas has been the construction of embankments as a protective measure to stop ingress of sea, water to these lands. Such bunds existing in Sunderbans (West Bengal), Orissa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka etc. are protecting large areas of coastal lands but many of them need improvements and renovation. There is also need to protect rest of the areas by constructing saline embankments along the sea coast in between the area demarcated by creeks and streams.”

— Report on Development of Coastal Areas Affected by Salinity (NATIONAL COMMITTEE ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF BACKWARD AREAS), November, 1981, Planning Commission, Government of India, New Delhi

Occupational Profile of the surveyed villages is presented in table 3.30 (pg. 118). The table provides the data, which is reproduced below (for the primary zone 0-3 km.).

Occupational Profile of the Surveyed Villages

S.No. Village Name Agriculture/ Farming Service Private Non-Agriculture Labour Poultry
0 – 3 km
  Datha 56% 30% 14% 0%
  Talli 65% 15% 20% 0%
  Bambhor 56% 30% 14% 0%
  Bhatakda 68% 12% 20% 0%
           

Source: Socio-Economic Survey

The average proportion of people engaged in agriculture in the primary zone comes to 61.25%. However and most surprisingly, the analysis of the data says something entirely different. It says: “Mostly the people in the study area are engaged in direct, indirect and induced employment from the mining and related industries such as diamond cutting industries and apart from mining industry, people in the study area are dependent on Agriculture/ Farming for their livelihood.” (Pg. 117).

Here, the EIA does not talk about the villages – Talli and Bambhor – which are going to be mined. Barring a few exceptions, all villages are dependent on agriculture and cattle rearing. If their land is mined, what is the use of their living here? Who will rehabilitate them? The EIA is silent on this. The Entire EIA, based on which the EC is granted, talks about the buffer zone but is silent on the Core zone! We are unable to understand how the EC could be granted on such a flimsy submission! The EC ought to be cancelled forthwith.

For one, the data and the analysis are contradictory. For another, how can the population be dependent on “direct, indirect or induced employment from mining” when the mining had not even commenced? Further, by what stretch of imagination is ‘diamond-cutting’ a mining related activity?

Besides, the EIA states clearly that the number of jobs created by the mining will be 30. How 30 jobs can become the core job sector defies imagination.

The EC does not speak about agriculture related direct and indirect job loss because of the proposed mining. EIA must speak about the job loss per job created by this mining. The entire stretch of land, proposed for mining by the PP is not only dependent on agriculture but thousands of people employed in agro-industries in the vicinity and earning thousands of crores of rupees in foreign currency, and who are to be considered as dependent on agriculture will lose their livelihood source.

It is amply clear that the EPA intends to deliberately misguide and obfuscate matters. Hence, this EC ought to be cancelled.

Impact on livelihood

The total employment generated and absorbed in the mining operation, spread over 1715 ha. will be a measly 30 (chapter II, Project description, point no. 2.4.4 pg 61). This quantum of employment can, by no measure, be justified in the name of ‘development’. It will end up destroying thousands of livelihoods – in agriculture, agriculture-related services, dairying, cattle-rearing, ginning and cotton ginning mills, fried onion plants, dehydration plants, and fishing.

As against 30 people (and thereby 30 families) getting employment in the mining sector, there are at least 25,000 persons (and thereby families) who depend on just the ginning mills, fried onion and dehydration plants. Apart from these, there will be at least another 25,000 people directly dependent on agriculture. How can 30 jobs justify destroying 50,000 jobs?

After suffering years of hardships their life had just begun to look up due to the bandharo. Just at this critical juncture in their lives the mining lease and operations will again make their lives precarious and vulnerable, forcing them to undertake migration yet again.

The contaminated water will damage the crops and reduce the yield and will also create health problems for humans as well as animals. The horticulture crops of coconut, mango and chikoo (sapota) will also suffer due to the dust and water pollution.

Negative Impact on Agro Industries:

Being the onion capital of India, Bhavnagar District and Mahuva and Talaja talukas in particular produces onion and garlic in huge quantity. Based on local onion and garlic, around 110 dehydration plants are working in the nearby villages. Every dehydration plant provides employment to at least 200 to 250 people in the season. These plants works for around 100 days a year and export dehydrated onion and garlic to Russia, Middle East, Germany, France and USA earning hundreds of crores of foreign exchange for the country.

“India is emerging exporter of the raw and processed food items. The fresh onion exported from India in year 2018-19 is Rs. 346861.44 lakh while processed food exported from India stands at Rs. 247398.76 lakh. Thus, total vegetable export from India stands at Rs. 594260.2 lakh. We assume that the area allotted for limestone mining plays very important role in earning foreign exchange for the country. Mahuva plays very important role by exporting dehydrated onion and garlic.”

http://agriexchange.apeda.gov.in/indexp/exportstatement.aspx

So also there are approximately 30 cotton ginning mills working in Mahuva and Talaja taluka providing employment to nearly 2500-3000 people in the season. If the fertile agriculture land in the area is mined and polluted, not only the entire agro industry but the farmers, the farm workers, the cattle-rearers and the workers working in agro industries would lose their employment and will be forced to migrate elsewhere thus falling into poverty and vulnerability. The much needed foreign currency these farmers and agro-industries earning, too, will be lost, the looser will not be the environment, people and wild life but the nation too.

The impacts on health due to air and noise pollution have been minimized or not reported at all.

Air pollution

Air pollution is another causality of mining activities. Blasting of land produces dust which invariably mixes with air and this reduces and disturbs oxygen portion and the air carries many toxic matter. Polluted air carries more sulphur oxide which cuts the nutrients which are necessary for nurturing of plants and this also causes dropping of the leaves and the tress. Polluted air causes wide range of respiratory disorders in people, children and old aged people.

All the roads leading to mines would be “kacha roads”, the movement of vehicles on these roads will generate fine dust which would cover the agriculture fields. Dust clouds are likely to cover the agriculture crops fully. This will certainly affect the agricultural productivity and the quality of the yield and the price.

Mining Dust and Air Pollution and Impact on health

Diseases such as bronchitis, Asthma, TB, and dust related diseases like silicosis are bound to come up in the region due to the mining. It will take a huge toll on community health in a region which is reeling with poor health infrastructure to begin with.

Noise pollution

Transportation of limestone through trucks would result in noise pollution in the villages. Apart from that the mining activities of drilling, blasting, compressors, pumps, loading, etc. will also contribute to the noise pollution. Noise pollution cause a sudden rise in blood pressure, noise can cause stress, noise can cause muscles pain, and noise can cause changes in the diameter of the blood vessel and nervousness, fatigue, temporary or permanent hearing problems.

The EIA report (pg. 139, pt. 4.14) states that:

“IMPACT ON HISTORICAL MONUMENTS

There is no historical monument in the study area. So, there will be no impact on the historical monument due to proposed mining activity in the area.”

This is absolutely false and amounts to suppression of key data. A temple of the chief goddess of the Koli, Rajput and Maldhari communities is situated on the seashore at village Uncha Kotada where lakhs of people visit during the year, more so on Aaso and Chaitri Navratri and Diwali. The temple is just 1.5 km away from the mining site, the road to the temple passes through the proposed mine area. The pilgrims to the temple will be subjected to the accidents, the polluted air, many of whom would be elderly and children. Their health and safety will be thus compromised by the presence of the mining activity.

With all the documents we have put here, we request you to give us an opportunity to present our point of view in person at a time and date of your choice but as early as possible because the damage done there to the wildlife, environment and agriculture is irreversible and it needs to be stopped as early as possible.

Failure to take immediate action will force us to take legal recourse for which only the concerned officers and the MoEFCC will be responsible. Thus our request to you to look into the matter and cancel the mining lease granted to M/s UltraTech Cement Ltd. in the area.

 


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