Mining Threatens Orissa's Environment
By Jatindra Dash
Indo-Asian News Service
November 5, 2004

Bhubaneswar: Orissa's environment is severely threatened by large-scale mining activities that are expected to intensify in coming years, environmentalists have warned.

The state is already emitting some 1 percent of the world's green house gases. This will rise to 3 percent by next year and 5 percent by 2008 if the government goes ahead with plans to invite mining companies from around the world.

Besides causing drastic climatic changes and a decline in wildlife habitats, the mining will also displace thousands of tribals and deprive future generations of the benefits of the state's mineral resources, they said.

Forty-two steel plants are poised to come up in Orissa, which will require some 1,600 million tonnes of iron ore in the next 25 years or half the state's known resources, Biswajit Mohanty, an environmentalist with the Wildlife Society of Orissa, told IANS.

Spurred by rising demands in the international market, conglomerates like BHP-Billiton, Vedanta Resources, Rio Tinto Mining, Alcan, Aditya Birla Group, Tata Group and Saudi Arabian companies are queuing up to exploit the state's resources, he said.

The state has also already leased or is leasing out 1,000 million tonnes of bauxite ore to various companies, or nearly 60 percent of its known reserves, Mohanty said.

He alleged that by allowing mining groups to exhaust resources in a single generation, the government was violating the principle of inter-generation equity laid down by the Supreme Court and its own objective of conserving minerals for future generations.

Large-scale mining of iron in Keonjhar and Sundergarh districts had caused a decline in elephant habitats. The proposed mining of bauxite in Niyamgiri and Karlapat sanctuaries will similarly leave the elephants and tigers there without a home, he claimed.

A scientist working in the region also said that bauxite mining and refining in the Niyamgiri hills of Kalahandi will contaminate two major rivers, Nagavalli and Vansadhara.

An iron ore mine going to open in the Gandhamardan hill of Keonjhar will pollute the Baitarani river, he said on condition of anonymity.

Poor pollution control means the state's industries and coal-fired power plants are emitting millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and other green house gases, causing severe changes in climate.

Rainfall has been irregular for almost a decade in the state. Poor rainfall this year caused drought in 12 districts, said Mohanty.

Between 1951 and 1995, nearly 1.4 million people were displaced in Orissa due to dams, canals, mines and industries.

With more such projects coming up every day, thousands more will soon have nowhere to live, Mohanty said.

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