Illegal Mining in India Threatens Right to Water

A new report on India’s rampant illegal mining highlights corruption, human rights violations.

As I recently wrote in an article about gold, high demand and prices for metals and minerals are creating a global boom in mining that has significant ramifications for water. But while the world’s major mining companies pour money into high profile mega projects, a new report from the nonprofit organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) argues that small, illegal mining operations pose an equal—if not greater—threat to the health, water and rights of local communities.

The report focuses on India, where 82,000 cases of illegal mining were recorded in 2010. In their haste to extract resources, these illegal mining operations have allegedly punctured water tables—letting community water supplies run dry—and polluted surface water. Farming has been particularly hard-hit by these actions.

But those are just operations that are not sanctioned by the government. HRW argues for an expanded definition of ‘illegal mining’ that includes legally recognized mines that use illegal practices, often overlooked due to corruption and lack of government oversight. For example, the report found that some Environmental Impact Assessments, which are often paid for and completed by the companies, simply omit the presence of springs and streams or are falsified in other ways. In other cases, government officials run businesses that do contract work for the mines and are reluctant to investigate any claims of human rights violations, according to the report.

Boat fully loaded with riverbed sand

Photo courtesy of Thaths via Flickr Creative Commons
Sand mined from India’s riverbeds is used in construction and manufacturing. The mining activities can pollute and deplete water supplies.

India’s Illegal Mining in the News:

• In the state of Kerala, both legal and illegal sand mining operations are polluting and depleting the Bharathapuzha River, which supplies water to several towns, The Hindu reported.
• An article in India Today looks at the connection between the ‘mining mafia’ and state officials in Rajasthan.
• Coal India, which mines 80 percent of the coal produced in India, is hiring a consultant to stop illegal mining on its properties, The Economic Times reported.

Circle of Blue’s Reporting on Resource Extraction
Circle of Blue has reported extensively on resource extraction in the United States, Australia, and Asia. Check out our stories below:

• The booming coal and gas industry in Australia, as reported by my colleagues Nadya Ivanova and Aaron Jaffe on their recent trip.
• How coal mining is changing Mongolia. Circle of Blue Director J. Carl Ganter reports firsthand.
• Natural gas and the revival of Ohio’s economy, a story I collaborated on with Circle of Blue Senior Editor Keith Schneider.

Have any thoughts or news about illegal mining? Contact Codi Yeager

–Codi Yeager-Kozacek
Circle of Blue Reporter

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