ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Who Pays the Price for Uranium Mining?

The Uranium Corporation of India plans to expand its mining and ore processing operations in Jaduguda, Jharkhand, which will require an additional 6.37 hectares of forest land. The public hearing on the environmental clearance in May was a farcical exercise with company employees and their families crowding out the affected villagers. The venue was surrounded by armed and baton-wielding police and the Central Industrial Security Force, creating a repressive atmosphere.

COMMENTARY

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Who Pays the Price for Uranium Mining?

Moushumi Basu

The Uranium Corporation of India plans to expand its mining and ore processing operations in Jaduguda, Jharkhand, which will require an additional 6.37 hectares of forest land. The public hearing on the environmental clearance in May was a farcical exercise with company employees and their families crowding out the affected villagers. The venue was surrounded by armed and baton-wielding police and the Central Industrial Security Force, creating a repressive atmosphere.

Moushumi Basu (basu.moushumi@gmail.com) is a journalist based in Ranchi.

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
december 5, 2009

T
he Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) which started mining operations in Jaduguda in B ihar’s (now Jharkhand) East Singhbhum district in 1967 has often been accused of harming the health of the tribals and other residents in the vicinity of its uranium ore mining and processing operations. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) and environmental management plan (EMP) 2009 for the Jaduguda mine ore and the ore processing plant say that both have “strategic” importance for n ational interest to cater to the need of uranium in the country. An additional quantity of uranium is required for e nhancing nuclear power generation from the present capacity of 4,120 to 10,180 MW by the end of the Eleventh Plan period.

The EIA and the EMP were drawn up in the wake of the renewal of the lease of

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Jaduguda mine, expansion of tailing dam stage III (requiring forestry clearance for

6.37 hectares) and enhancement of ore capacity of plant from 2,090 tonne per day (TPD) to 2,500 TPD.

The UCIL is solely responsible for mining and processing uranium ore in the

country and thus occupies an important position in the nuclear programme. Jadug uda has the only productive uranium mines in the country. The company has operational mines in Bhatin, Turamdhih, Narwapahar, Banduhurang besides ore processing plant at Jaduguda and T uramdih in East Singbhum. The installed capa city of the Jaduguda mines is 1,000 TPD ore.

While the UCIL considers the expansion of the operations to be “marginal”, the local villagers are protesting against it. The public hearing on the environmental clearance for the expansion plans was conducted by the Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board in Jaduguda on 26 May.

Not for the Public

The hearing was held near the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) camp in the UCIL colony and Section 144 of the

COMMENTARY

Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) was enforced. The ground was cordoned off and the site of the hearing was virtually converted into a “fort” with a single gate. Instead of the affected villagers, employees of the UCIL accompanied by family members thronged the venue. Wives and even the children of the e mployees were seen carrying different banners in support of UCIL. Some of these said, “When compared with hunger, pollution is a small issue… Save UCIL”, “We are not afraid of pollution; those who give us food, clothing and shelter are our own people...”

However, the “public” who have lost their lands to the mines and whose health has been damaged due to radiation could find no place in the tent and it was not easy for them to participate in the hearing. Armed men and women of the CISF and other forces were deployed about a k ilometre ahead of the venue and many of the villagers were stopped and forced to go back.

However, a group of about a hundred local villagers under the banner of the Jharkhandi Organisation Against Radiation (JOAR) managed to make their way to the venue.

Following a scuffle with the UCIL e mployees who had occupied all the chairs,the JOAR members decided to boycott the public hearing and hold a dharna just outside the fence surrounding the venue. Environmentalists accompanying the villagers also decided to join them.

Ghanashyam Biruli, a local villager and president of JOAR put forward the villagers’ demands. These are: (a) no new uranium mine, (b) bring the existing mine under the international safety guidelines,

  • (c) return tribal land acquired earlier, but not utilised for mining, (d) provide livelihood and rehabilitation to the displaced people, (e) clean up the contamination,
  • (f) make an independent study of the environmental and health impact of the UCIL’s operations in Jaduguda, (g) monitor the water bodies to ensure that the r adionuclides do not seep into the aquifer used by more than 1,00,000 people. The activists also reiterated their position that there is no compelling need to expand the capacity of the UCIL as the
  • country can now buy uranium from the international market.

    The public hearing commenced with the general manager (mines), UCIL reading out a document listing the details of the project. It was full of technical terms which were beyond the comprehension of the audience and was followed by speeches from members of the “public”. At the end of the day, the management succeeded in driving home the point that the UCIL p rovides employment and all talk about radiation was actually anti-national p ropaganda.

    Demand for Credible Surveys

    In a letter to the Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board, the JOAR has questioned the usefulness of the public hearing, considering that the affected villagers were neither allowed to speak, nor were they given the EIA and the EMP reports of the expansion operations. The JOAR members also found that places like the Jaduguda colony, Narwa Pahar colony where the impact of radiation is relatively less were surveyed while the villages of Tilaitand, Chatikocha, Dungridih and others that are among the worst affected were deliberately left out. They have also complained to the union environment ministry and demanded a fresh public hearing on the issue.

    The villagers led by JOAR want the UCIL to prepare credible EIA and EMP reports and a moratorium to be declared on the opening of new uranium mines. They have also called for an independent and credible study on the radiation-related health problems in Jaduguda and enactment of laws such as those passed in the US like the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) and Energy Employee Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act 2000.

    It is very telling that the UCIL which has been mining the area for the past 40 years has not been able to win the support of the villagers for its expansion programme. One of the significant reasons for this is that it has not been able to usher in the necessary development in the leasehold area villages. These villages are bereft of even the basic amenities. The level of developmental work carried out by the company can be imagined from the fact that one or two villages managed to tap r unning water sources after a series of tailing dam pipe bursts in 2006. The company has plans to exploit the uranium d eposits at Bagjata and Mahuldih in Jharkhand, Lambapur-Paddaguttu and Tummalapalle in Andhra Pradesh and the KPM project in Meghalaya. At all these places, however, there have been protests from the local residents.

    december 5, 2009 vol xliv no 49

    EPW
    Economic & Political Weekly

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