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Limestone mining in Bhavnagar to 'impact' livelihood, water bodies, Asiatic lions

By Our Representative
The Khedut Ekta Manch – Gujarat (KEMG), a non-profit farmers’ organization based in Ahmedabad, in a representation to the High Court-appointed committee to study the impact of limestone mining in Bhavnagar district, Gujarat, has that there are “very serious issues" would emerge in the wake of the decision to sanction of mining lease in the area "without the prior informed consent of thousands of families and people, who are to be divested of their livelihoods.”
Pointing out that the issue is not of livelihoods alone, but of the loss of the entire ecosystem, water bodies, biodiversity and the endangered and protected lion population in the area, Sagar Rabari, president of the organization, has sought careful examine the issues being raised in KEMG’s submission, demanding that “all mining activities be stopped with immediate effect”, and “advise the High Court of Gujarat to cancel the mining permission and lease.”
Rabari also wants the committee to “advise the concerned government departments to ensure that before sanctioning of any such land for non-agriculture use, prior informed consent of the affected people be made mandatory from not only the Gram Panchayat but Gram Sabha as well”, adding, the government must be told that “a mandatory livelihood loss survey” should be undertaken “prior to such projects being sanctioned on agriculture land.”
The representation particularly focuses its attention to what it calls “specific impacts of limestone mining in 1,300 hectares (ha) spread over the 13 villages of Talaja (Jhanjmer, Talli, Methala, Madhuvan, Reliya, Gadhula, Bambhor, Nava Rajpara, Juna Rajpara) and Mahuva (Nicha Kotda, Uncha Kotda, Dayal, Kalsaar) talukas of Bhavnagar district by Ultratech Cements Ltd”, as 98 per cent of land acquired by the company is “private agricultural land.”

Excerpts:

It is observed that, wherever there is limestone underground the land is fertile and agriculture is prosperous. On the seashore from Ghogha to Porbandar, the coastal area is fertile, and the rich agriculture there is known in local language as “Lili Nagher” – the lush green. Inland area away from seashore is comparatively less fertile.
On the seashore, sweet water availability is also due to the limestone. The site where mining is permitted – the Mahuva taluka – is known as Kashmir of Saurashtra. Horticulture is widely practised here, especially coconut plantations and the world famous Jamadar mango, which are now under danger of extinction.
The process of mining will entail excavation, blasting and drilling of blast holes, blasting of rocks, manual shattering of rocks, loading and transportation, etc. The dust is disbursed during these processes and settles on the nearby fields, water bodies and standing crops.
The soil dug from the mine may be dropped from a height making the dust to disburse in the air and deposit on the land rendering the soil sterile. The net effects will be:
  • erosion of the top soil
  • existing land becomes unfit for cultivation because of dumping of solid waste, probably leading to desertification 
  • standing crops are adversely affected due to dust disbursed in the air, stunting the growth of plants and crops 
  • cotton, onion, garlic, jowar, millet and other vegetables will be badly affected by the dust and water pollution. 

Water pollution

Mining activity results in making deep pits which in turn causes ground water table to go down. Contamination of surface water due to dumping of solid waste and dust results in contamination of tanks, rivulets, rivers, open wells and ground water as well.
There may be trucks involved in transportation of limestone. These trucks would be washed at tanks, nalha, and other surface water storage bodies. In this act of working, the dust, oil and grease containing heavy metals like lead (Pb) etc. may get mixed into the water. This can also contaminate the water bodies.

Salinity ingress

Gujarat being a state with the longest coastline in India, is one of the states with a problem of high salinity ingress. Bhavnagar district is a coastal district and is also affected by salinity ingress which threatens agriculture, water quality and overall health of the people.
One of the measures for checking salinity ingress is the embankment (bandharo). While the Government of Gujarat (GoG) and the Government of India (GoI) spend many millions of rupees carrying out studies and making recommendations to the effect that embankments should be built, the GoG on the other hand goes ahead and gives out mining leases in these same areas which threaten the embankment.

Impact on the embankment (bandharo)

Many years back the GoG had proposed a check dam on river Bagad to check salinity ingress. For reasons best known to GoG, the proposed check dam could not be built. Salinity ingress was rapidly threatening the villages upstream, threatening the water quality and agricultural productivity.
Having waited in vain for the GoG to build the dam, the people of villages Methala and Kotada decided to build the check dam themselves by raising the finance for it from among themselves and other donors. They started the work on April 6, 2018 and completed it in June 2018. The total cost of the entire operation was Rs. 45,00,000.
This year (April and May 2019) they strengthened the structure by spending around Rs 7,40,000.In total people have spent Rs 52,00,000 to build 1.3 km long bund plus 300-meter concrete structure to allow the excess water to pass whereas the GoG’s estimate for the same was Rs 80 crore. This check-dam will enrich the groundwater quality; irrigate thousands of acres of land of around 7 villages.
Now, with the mining lease given by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) this water body is threatened, it being in very close proximity (less than a kilometre) to the mining site. The mining operations will release dust in the air which will settle on to the surface of the water, percolate to the wells and pollute the ground water.
The embankment means that there is a shift from ground water irrigation to surface water irrigation which is a highly recommended measure to check groundwater depletion. The mining will force the farmers to revert back to groundwater irrigation further endangering the already dangerous levels of groundwater.

Impact on livelihood

The villages where mining lease has been granted is fertile agricultural land producing cotton, jowar, millet, maize, onion, garlic, and other vegetables. The entire population is dependent on agriculture. In the absence of a permanent source of irrigation people of these villages were forced to migrate after Diwali (start of winter) in search of work.
Children of the migrating families had to suffer loss of education and were forced to live in precarious conditions in industrial areas in the Ankleshwar-Vapi Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) belt. Now, the check dam has assured them a regular source of irrigation, greatly raised the water table and improved the quality of water only in one monsoon.
After suffering years of hardships their life had just begun to look up due to the bandharo. Just at this critical juncture in their lives the mining lease and operations will again make their lives precarious and vulnerable, forcing them to undertake migration yet again.
The contaminated water will damage the crops and reduce the yield and will also create health problems for humans as well as animals. The horticulture crops of coconut, mango and chikoo (sapota) will also suffer due to the dust and water pollution.

Negative impact on agroindustries

Being the onion capital of India, Bhavnagar District and Mahuva and Talaja talukas in particular produces onion and garlic in huge quantity. Based on local onion and garlic, around 110 dehydration plants are working in the nearby villages. Every dehydration plant provides employment to at least 200 to 250 people in the season. These plants work for around 100 days a year.

They export dehydrated onion and garlic to Russia, Middle East, Germany, France and USA earning hundreds of crores of foreign exchange for the country. So also there are approximately 30 cotton ginning mills working in Mahuva and Talaja taluka providing employment to nearly 2,500-3,000 people in the season.
If the fertile agriculture land in the area is mined and polluted, not only the entire agro industry but the farmers, the farm workers, the cattle-rearers and the workers working in agro industries would lose their employment and will be forced to migrate elsewhere thus falling into poverty and vulnerability.

Air pollution

Air pollution is another causality of mining activities. Blasting of land produces dust which invariably mixes with air and this reduces and disturbs oxygen portion and the air carries many toxic matter. Polluted air carries more sulphur oxide which cuts the nutrients which are necessary for nurturing of plants and this also causes dropping of the leaves and the tress.
Polluted air causes wide range of respiratory disorders in people, children and old aged people All the roads leading to mines would be “kacha roads”, the movement of vehicles on these roads will generate fine dust which would cover the agriculture fields. Dust clouds are likely to cover the agriculture crops fully. This will certainly affect the agricultural productivity and the quality of the yield.

Impact on health

Diseases such as bronchitis, Asthma, TB, and dust related diseases like silicosis are bound to come up in the region due to the mining. It will take a huge toll on community health in a region which is reeling with poor health infrastructure to begin with.

Noise pollution

Transportation of limestone through trucks would result in noise pollution in the villages. Apart from that the mining activities of drilling, blasting, compressors, pumps, loading, etc. will also contribute to the noise pollution. Noise pollution cause a sudden rise in blood pressure, noise can cause stress, noise can cause muscles pain, and noise can cause changes in the diameter of the blood vessel and nervousness, fatigue, temporary or permanent hearing problems.

Irreversible damage to lion habitat

Palitana, Jesar, Talaja and Mahuva talukas of Bhavnagar and nearby Rajula taluka is the natural habitat of the Asiatic lions which have been found loitering in the villages. In the area where the mining lease is given to Ultratech, lions and other migratory birds are spotted many times. This mining and heavy traffic activity will endanger the protected animal and birds.

Impact on a place of religious importance

A temple of the chief goddess of the Koli, Rajput and Maldhari communities is situated on the seashore at village Uncha Kotada where lakhs of people visit during the year, more so on Aaso and Chaitri Navratri and Diwali. The temple is just 1.5 km away from the mining site. The pilgrims to the temple will be subjected to the polluted air, many of whom would be elderly and children. Their health and safety will be thus compromised by the presence of the mining activity.

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