As a nation that fervently considers the conservation of the environment as a national policy, the mining industry is always projected as a bad industry.
The mere mention of mining or quarries, sand or stone, conjures up an image of huge machineries scarring the green hillsides or polluting the air or damaging crops. There is already a conclusion that mining is bad and that only a handful are benefitting or becoming rich at the cost of the environment.
We have to mine our natural resources. In fact, we have plenty of them, and it is only appropriate to mine them and contribute to the development of the country. The problem is when sustainable mining is compromised. That’s why we have policies or regulations. The bigger problem is when they are breached and breached right under the nose of the authorities.
Going by the latest report, about 60 percent of mines and quarries in the country have violated the environment clearance terms and conditions. This will not reflect nicely on the miners and those operating quarries. It is a lucrative business and everybody is eyeing to open one. Breaching terms and conditions could lead to cancellation of licenses.
This also doesn’t reflect nicely when people are increasingly opposing mining or quarry activities in their area. Miners are expected to give something back to the community where the activity is happening. If dust and pollution is all they leave, communities will make noise. Our villagers are becoming aware of the regulations, and some have already started making it difficult for proponents when they come looking for community consent.
Already suffering from an image crisis, violating agreed terms or regulations should be the last thing those operating mines and quarries do. It will pressure authorities to clamp down hard on them. In today’s case, even community members are closely watching the activities.
There is a notion that, once the feasibility studies are approved, not much follow up ensues. This encourages those who breach agreement to do what they do. This is not only in the mining sector.
The national environment commission and the department of geology and mines should carry out regular compliance monitoring. Sometimes, rules could be breached not deliberately, but because of ignorance or not understanding the norms. Fines and penalties will deter people, but it cannot reverse the damage done to the environment. It takes years for a forest to regenerate, for instance.
Regular monitoring would be addressing the disease and not the symptom. There are only 44 mines and quarries operational in the country. Regular monitoring does seem possible. Closing a few that violate norms will deter others.
Meanwhile, miners agreeing to an undertaking to clean up the mess they left behind is a positive indication that they will cooperate if monitored well. This should clean up their image too.