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The State of Jharkhand: Environmental Concerns
The word Jharkhand connotes an area of land covered with forests. The word Jharkhand has been derived from the Sanskrit word, Jhari Khanda the ancient name depicting the regions’ dense forest. Thus, naturally as well as symbolically, the states’ very existence is associated with forests. Another remarkable aspect is the presence of various ethnic groups in the region such as Munda, Ho, Oraon, Santhal, Paharia, Chero, Birjea, Asura, Kharia and many others. These indigenous tribes have lived in harmonious relationship with their environment and have developed a culture, which is completely nature centric. The tribals have a symbiotic relationship with nature as is reflected from the festivals like Karma and Sarhul, wherein trees are worshiped. Since these aboriginal races are closely connected with nature, the large scale exploitation of natural resources has not only had an adverse impact on the environment, but has also drastically affected their lives.
Rich Mineral Resources: Bane or Boon
Boon: The State of Jharkhand has immensely rich mineral resources amounting to approximately 50% of the countries’ resources. Minerals like iron ore, coal, copper, mica, bauxite, manganese, lime stone, uranium and many more are found in abundance in the State. Several Steel giants, Thermal Power Generation Units and aluminum plants are dependent on supply of iron, coal and bauxite available in the State. Massive Industrialization, a booming economy and employment opportunities are some of the boons of being a mineral rich state.
Bane: Unfortunately, being rich in mineral resources did not aid to its growth rather, it destroyed the basic essence of the State, i.e. its rich greenery, flowing streams, virgin waterfalls and rare wild animals. Uncontrolled mining and the greed to extract more and more from the Earth has not only destroyed the forest area, but also the wild life and the livelihood of the tribal communities, who are fully dependent on the forests. The density of Saranda Forest once popularly known as a forest where the sun rays had difficulty in penetrating and where the elephants had a cozy habitat is decreasing day by day. Mining can never be a innocuous activity. Unless the mining activities are checked, carefully planned and executed they are bound to ruin the land, water, forest and air. Due to haphazard mining, rich forests and agricultural lands of the indigenous tribals is lying waste. Due to open cast mining operations, there has been and alteration of soil profile and degradation of the productive capacity of the lands. During production, coal carries methane gas which can ignite spontaneously. Since, the last 70 years, an underground fire has raged in the Jharia Coalfields, burning millions of tones of coal. Due to unsustainable mining of natural resources, the Bio-diversity in the State has been badly affected. Due to decreasing forest area, the number of elephants, tiger, leopard, sloth bear and other such animals is decreasing day by day. Large scale mining operations have adversely affected ground water table. Damodar, once consider a sacred river by the tribals is a black shrunken sewage cannel filled with filth and contaminated with toxic materials like arsenic, mercury, fluoride and lead. The water of Damodar was once the support system of the local inhabitants, but now it can neither be used for drinking nor for bathing. Similarly, Subarnrekha which means streak of gold was the lifeline of tribal communities, but is now a recipient of domestic, industrial and radioactive pollution. Once home of rich aquatic life and fishery, today has very little to offer to those who live around her. Due to the uranium mining in Jadugora, the people in the area are affected by the radiation and are falling prey to innumerable diseases like fatigue, lack of appetite, thalassemia, downs’ syndrome, skeletal deformities and many more. Unfortunately, much has not been done on behalf of the State to combat the pollution or to protect and preserve the rich natural heritage, which is the symbolism of the State. Till the recent past we have seen that the Pollution Control Board, which is the major stake holder in matters concerning environment was defunct in the State and was an office probably only to fill-up political vacancies. The lethargic attitude of the Pollution Control Board is apparent from the Saga of pollution related activities spread across the State. It is high time that the watch dog of the environment wakes-up to the call of nature and realizes that they are accountable and answerable, if pollution is not being checked and the environment at large is suffering. As per the report of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a horrific picture of devastation has been wrought by mining in the country. The statistics of the report reveal a shocking and alarming situation:
- Between 1950 and 1991, mining displaced about 2.6 million people – not even 25 percent of these displaced have been rehabilitated. About 52 percent of these displaced were tribals.
- For every 1 percent that mining contributes to India’s GDP, it displaces 3-4 times more people than all the development projects put together.
- Forest land diversion for mining has been going up. So has water use and air pollution in the mining hotspots. An estimated 1.64 lakh hectare of forest land has already been diverted for mining in the country. Iron ore mining in India used up 77 million tone of water in 2005-06, enough to meet the daily water needs of more than 3 million people.
- Mining of major minerals generated about 1.84 billion tone of waste in 2006 most of which has not been disposed of properly. Coal mining has been the chief culprit: every tone of coal extracted generates 3-4 tone of wastes.
In Jharkhand, rampant mining has turned large tracts of forests into wasteland. According to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, between 1985-2004, more than 9,000 hectare of forest land had been diverted for mining in the state. This was approximately 10 percent of the total forest and diverted for mining in India- and this did not include the thousands of hectares diverted by the coal mining sector. Naturally, Jharkhand’s people, who include, the fifth highest concentration of forest dwellers and tribals in the country, have been badly hit. It is estimated that 55 percent of the people displaced due to mining in the state are tribals. Says the CSE report: “The very people for whom Jharkhand was ostensibly created are now being sacrificed in the name of their own state’s development”. The Jharkhand High Court being the highest court of the land could not have sat with closed eyes over the massive environmental destruction and in a series of public interest litigation, at times suo-moto and at times on the call of public spirited citizens has taken cognizance of environmental issues and has directed the State Government to perform its statutory duties.
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