India: Who Pays the Price for Uranium Mining?
- South Asians Against Nukes - Year 11
December 6, 2009
(Published in the Economic and Political Weekly, December 5, 2009 vol
xliv no 49)
Who Pays the Price for Uranium Mining?
By 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.
The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) which started mining
operations in Jaduguda in Bihar's (now Jharkhand) East Singhbhum
district in 1967 has often been accused of harming the health of the
tribals and o ther 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 national interest to cater to the need of
uranium in the country. An additional quantity of uranium is required
for enhancing 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 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. Jaduguda 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
Turamdih in East Singbhum. The installed capacity of the Jaduguda
mines is 1,000 TPD ore.
While the UCIL considers the expan- sion of the operations to be
"marginal", the l ocal villagers are protesting against it. The
public hearing on the environ- mental 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 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, employ- ees 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 sup- port 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
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 kilometre 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 sur- rounding the venue.
Environmentalists accompanying the villagers also decided to join them.
Ghanashyam Biruli, a local villager and president of JOAR put forward
the villag- ers' 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 radionuclides 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 propaganda.
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 d
emanded 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 running water sources after a
series of tailing dam pipe bursts in 2006. The company has plans to
exploit the uranium deposits 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.
Moushumi Basu <basu.moushumi(AT)gmail.com> is a journalist based in
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