Environmental Impact of iron ore mining
1. The exploration, exploitation and associated activities of iron ore mining directly infringe upon the environment and affect air, water, land, flora & fauna. These important natural resources need to be conserved and extracted optimally to ensure a sustainable development. The impacts of Indian iron ore mining on environment has been discussed in detail in the Section – Four of the report. Some of the findings are highlighted below:
2. The most significant environmental damages due to iron ore mining in India are the deterioration of forest ecology, alteration of land use pattern and change in local drainage system due to inadequate landscape management during mining operation and improper & inadequate rehabilitation strategy adopted. Management and rehabilitation of the wastes and overburden dumps are of particular concern. It was observed that the ecological principles were not taken into account while carrying out the rehabilitation of the mined out areas and the waste rock dumps in the reserved forest areas, which require a completely different approach. Current rehabilitation is principally directed at restoring visual amenity, stabilizing disturbed areas and growing trees that will prove useful to the future generations.
Rehabilitation practices for Reserved Forests, while also meeting these objectives, should aim to restore the native forest in all its diversity. Restoration of the forest vegetation requires re-establishment of all forest components, not only trees.
3. The most conspicuous positive impacts of iron ore mining in India are social and economic upliftment. Almost all iron ore mining areas support quite large local communities who are totally dependent on mining and associated operations. Better healthcare, education, living standards being some of the benefits, the local populace had got due to mining.
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4. Dust is the major issue of concern in all the mining areas during nonmonsoon periods. The study team however found that this aspect varies from deposit to deposit (nature of deposit) and season to season. Suspended solids in the drainage basins around the iron ore mining areas is also an issue of concern during monsoon. In the areas of high rainfall (more than 2500mm annual average in the Goa and Kudremukh region), the control of suspended solids in the surface runoff become an issue of major concern, and the situation further worsen because of the presence of scattered, unstabilised and improperly designed waste dumps. Recently, the water scarcity has also been assumed a greater significance in the Bellary-Hospet sector, where the mines have reported that they are facing problem in finding sufficient water in the region to use in dust suppression through sprinkling and wet drilling.
5. A study conducted by a committee constituted by MoEF during March’1998 consisting of representative from Forest Survey of India (FSI), Botanical Survey of India (BSI), Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM), Geological Survey of India (GSI), National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), Indian School of Mines (ISM), Federation of Indian Mining Industries (FIMI) and SAIL found out that a total of 14,111 ha of forest cover exist over the iron ore mining lease area in the state of Chattisgarh covering Baster, Durg and Rajnandangaon districts; 20968ha of forest cover exists over the iron ore mining lease area in the Singhbhum districts of Jharkhand and Sundergarh & Keonjhar districts of Orissa. The study has used Corollary temporal study of satellite data. The study also showed that there is an increase in the forest cover in the Bailadila area due to the rehabilitation measures taken by M/s NMDC. The LANDSATTM data for October’1989 and IRS-IB LISS II data for June 1997 was analysed to detect the change in the forest cover. The study revealed about 10% gain in the forest cover (increase from 6744ha of forest area to 7435ha, i.e. a gain of 691ha) in the lease area during the period.
6. The Iron ore industry in Goa operates under certain difficult conditions specific to Goan iron ore mines. Mining activity in several places is being carried out below the water table, which requires dewatering of pits for operation to continue. This necessitates transport problem within the mine because of greater working depth. Drilling and blasting are restricted due to limited lateritic overburden, presence of villages and inhabited areas in the vicinity of the mines. Mining lease in the area is restricted to 100ha and resulted in improper mine infrastructure development and lateral mine development. Coupled with high overburden to ore ratio (of an average of about 2.5 to 3.0:1), it makes very difficult for having waste dump properly designed or even there is very limited space (or non at all) available within the lease area to dump the waste material. This leads to acquiring land outside the lease area for dumping rejects. Land being in short supply, dumps are typically steep with slopes greater than 30o and height of 30-50 Mts. Many waste dumps are situated in the upper part of the valley regions and during monsoon, run off from dumps is common, which blankets agricultural fields and settles in water courses. Again, because of small land holdings, large amount of ore is blocked in barriers of adjoining mines; operations could be carried out close to common boundaries of two lease holders with mutual understanding.