Don't overstep the mine line

Even before the dust could settle on Vedanta Resources' bauxite mining lease controversy in BJD-led Orissa, another series of flashpoints have emerged.

The latest eco-tussle between the powers-that-be, the Maharashtra government in this case, and the people over mining leases has begun in full force after the Congress-led state cleared 49 leases for excavating iron and bauxite ores in the eco-fragile Sindhudurg region of the Western Ghats.

Ironically, Sindhudurg has 49 per cent green cover, the highest in Maharashtra.

Moreover, 32 of these mining permits have been given in the Sawantwadi-Dodamarg zone, a part of the wildlife corridor between Koyna and Radhanagari wildlife sanctuaries in Maharashtra and the Anshi-Dandeli tiger reserve in Karnataka.

The people of this area have also accused the authorities of not holding proper public hearings. Many villages, Kalane for example, have also alleged that the environmental impact assessments were faulty because they didn't take into account the perennial water bodies, reserve forests and rivers.

None of these accusations are new or specific to the fight in the Western Ghats. We have heard them before be it in Orissa or Goa.

We have heard similar protests against power projects, mining and hydroelectric projects. We have heard governments — irrespective of the party ruling the state — going against their own research studies to give the green signal to mining projects.

In 2002, Maharashtra asked Shivaji University to do a report on the importance of the Ghats. When the report identified it as an eco-sensitive area, the government dumped it. In 1997 in Goa, the government refused to accept a report from TERI on the perils of mining.

In certain other instances, for example in the Niyamgiri case, we saw the Union environment minister stepping in. But is that how all eco-flashpoints should be solved?

There is a clear system in place that evaluates such projects: a transparent public hearing and Environmental Impact Assessment are the two basic requirements. The fact that these basics are being tampered with on every single occasion shows that the instituted system has been broken down systematically by vested interests.

Policies need to be sacrosanct and not party/state specific. What is wrong in Orissa cannot be right in Maharashtra/Goa. Meanwhile, the people's protests are gathering pace and coalescing, and turning India into, in the words of the famous India-baiter, a nation of a million mutinies.


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