Introduction: Iron ore mining is big business in India, with nature endowing the southern states of Goa and Karnataka with deposits that bring Hematite content of 50% or more. This has led to a mining rush that now exports the iron ore to international markets and domestic steel makers. Alas, what makes the apartment blocks in urban concrete jungles also leaves large gaping wounds on mother earth in the form of abandoned open cast mines.
The land mined for iron ore is given on long term lease to the mining companies, with a precondition that the same lands be restored. The restoration of the land is also a condition for the renewal of leases. Despite these legal safeguards most mining companies have flouted all these rules and continued to mine without any concern for how the land is abandoned.
In the last few years, especially after the big mining scams in Karnataka the government has been more stringent. There has been a moratorium of sorts on mining in the state; new leases (or the renewal of leases) are given only after inspection by the Central Empowerment Committee that inspects mining areas and guarantees that the process of restoration is an integral part of the agreement.
The PHCC and restoration
The PHCC has experience with wasteland restoration through vegetative means has been in three zones of Palani Hills in Tamil Nadu (arid scrub jungle, deciduous forests and dry evergreen forests). The Council has a long history of raising native plants, of a variety of habitats, and has supplied both other institutions and farmers with planting material.
In 2012, the Mineral Enterprises Limited, a mining company, approached the PHCC for advice about the restoration of a mining site in Chitradurga District in Karnataka. The total land involved is about 60 acres and on a 30 year lease; as each section of the land was mined their intention was to restore it by vegetative methods. An agreement for the supply of 50,000 native plants was made by the PHCC to MEL, of which about 20,000 have been delivered. The process is ongoing.
The task of eco restoration, on an experimental basis, involved identifying species that can
• Endure the vagaries of weather: the area where the eco restoration is taking place is prone to severe drought
• Compete with invasive weeds and survive where nutrition and humus have been lost due to past activities
• The inclusion of liana species in the selection.
A visit by PHCC team for studying the area was undertaken; the company representatives visited PHCC tree nurseries twice in 2012 for elaborate discussions about appropriate species, their transport and acclimatization in the mining area for a specific period, and final planting.
As mentioned above, the first phase was experimental, essentially because the PHCC has to respond within a brief stipulated period to the Company’s request. Now with about 8 months behind, new ideas have emerged regarding the species most suited (and available) for raising in the nurseries, species (especially of shrubs and creepers) required for the restoration site, and possibilities of setting up some in situ nurseries, along with the existing ones in Tamil Nadu.
In the coming 2 years the PHCC hopes to expand its work also in the fields of legislation surrounding the restoration of mined areas. Since last month (April/13) the Supreme Court has lifted the ban on mining in some areas and cancelled leases in others, depending on the amount of illegalities perceived and the destruction the lands have undergone.
Using the foothold gained by getting a chance to deal with a mining company in a restoration process, the PHCC intends to explore whether other companies can be approached for the restoration of their mined areas. In this the PHCC will link up with organizations working on mining issues in the Eastern Ghats, such as SAMATA as well as the ERC, housed in Kotagiri. The PHCC will establish a critical think-tank of a varied group of people to appraise it of legal conditions within mining – at present it seems that there is a “no mining” lobby, with mining going on as usual in most places. Restoration, as a physical process that is also required by law, will be the means of commencing some form of fruitful dialogue between the various stakeholders, comprising the mining company, the government, conservation groups, as well as any affected communities. Though at present this initiative will focus in Karnataka (and possibly Tamil Nadu), the simultaneous gathering and analyzing of such information from other parts of the country will be a part of the work. Outcome: such an engagement will be a protocol of how to go about rehabilitation efforts in mined/mining areas.
Other activities will be to:
1. To survey and select mines and mining sites in Karnataka/TN that are abandoned and ready for restoration. Outcome: a list of mines and their legal/ecological condition.
2. Setting up model plots or facilitating training for NGOs in mining areas to set up nurseries to further restoration and reclamation efforts. Outcome: Restoration work gains importance.
3. To conduct in-depth research on soil conditions of abandoned mines for a better understanding of the restoration process ; such research, conducted alongside the planting, will fine-tune the PHCC expertise in this new field. Outcome: Improve capacity on all aspects of restoration of mined lands.
4. To increase the stock of seedlings in the PHCC nurseries that will focus on restoration work.
5. To document, phase-wise, the various stages of restoration of the sites reclaimed. Outcome: Document on a restoration protocol.
6. Study water balance lost through Open Cast Mines that now store little or no water from rains for recommending suitable remedial measures like percolation ponds.
7. Identify local communities who’s loss of livelihoods and recommend for benefits through Corporate Social Responsibility.
Photo credit: Licensed under creative commons from Nitin Kirloskar
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