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10 Mining and water conflicts

Water is a fluid resource, constantly moving between the atmosphere, land and sea; flowing through minerals, plants and soil. Mountain catchments are the source of all water streams, creating rain through their orography, and capturing it in the natural reservoirs created by forests and geological structures. Mining in the catchments can lead to ecological havoc in the water systems. It can generate severe conflicts between the role of minerals in the market economy, for which they must be mined and removed, and the role of geological structures in nature's economy of maintaining the water cycle.

Be it coal for the generation of energy, iron ore for export and the growth of the national steel industry, bauxite for feeding the Japanese aluminium plants, or limestone for the cement industry- exploitation of mineral resources is the material basis of the industrial economy.

Yet in every region citizens are willing to lay down their lives to stop mining operations which, behind the facade of development, destroy the material basis of the survival of large numbers of local people. Women of the Gandhamardan Hills and of the villages of the picturesque Doon Valley, the tribals of Chhattisgarh, Singrauli, and Santhal Parganas have carried out month long blockades against mining operations in their hills. If, for various geological reasons, the mountains of India are repositories of the richest minerals, they are also the central features of our life-support systems.

While historically human settlements have tended to flourish mainly in the plains, Indian civilisation recognised the central role of mountains in ensuring survival in the densely populated river basins and valleys. The mountains in which our major rivers rise have, accordingly, been protected. Mountain watersheds have often been treated as sacred and have been conserved. The sacred Himalaya is the source of the major rivers of North India-the Ganga, the Yamuna, the Brahmaputra and their many tributaries. The Vindhya and Satpura Ranges feed the Tapti, the Narmada. the Sone, the Mahanadi, etc. The Western Ghats are the origin of the major rivers of peninsular India like the Godavari, the Krishna and the Kaveri. These rivers are the lifeline of the economy. and the mountains from which they renew their flow are the foundation for a stable economy.

The main contribution of the mountains to the country has been their role in providing perennial water resources. Through their orographic influence, mountains induce precipitation of water from the atmosphere. Through their natural forest cover. along with their geological structures, mountains convert seasonal rainfall into perennial water resources. Unfortunately, the hydrological role of the mountains has been totally ignored by the champions of industrial growth for whom the mountains are mere sources of unexploited raw materials.

The most well known people's movement against ecologically destructive mining is in the Doon Valley villages of Nahi-Kala and Thano, where activists of the Chipko movement are working with local communities to draw attention to the fact that mining of limestone has totally undermined the material basis of survival of the people.

Miles away from the Doon Valley, in Orissa, adivasi women of the 'Save Gandhamardan' movement embraced the earth singing Mati Devata, Dharam Devata (the earth is our God) to blockade the movement of vehicles of the Bharat Aluminium Company. BALCO had come in search of bauxite deposits in Gandhamardan after having destroyed the hydrological stability and sanctity of another important mountain-Amar Kantak-the source of the waters of the Narmada. the Sone and the Mahanadi rivers. The destruction of Amar Kantak was a high cost to pay for reserves which were much smaller than the original estimate. To feed its one lakh tonne aluminium plant at Korba in Madhya Pradesh.

Balco has moved to orissa to exploit the sacred gandhamardan hills, a storehouse of invaluable plant diversity and water resources. The forests of Gandhamardan have a rich stock of herbs with high medicinal value and feed twenty-two perennial streams and four waterfalls which feed the Ong and Sukhtel tributaries of the Mahanadi.

Since 1985 the tribals have obstructed the work of BALCO and have refused to be tempted by the company's offer of employment. Even police help has failed to weaken their determined protest.

The conflict is totally unnecessary because aluminium production has turned out to be a losing enterprise in India in market terms. BALCO incurred a loss of Rs. 77 crores in 1985 86 alone. Its cumulative net loss up to March 1986 stood at Rs. 317 crores. Future prospects of the company to make profits also seem dismal. The irrationality of destroying precious water resources for the mining of bauxite when we already have a surplus of aluminium is evident. The mining activity is not dictated by the needs of the people but by the demands of industrialised countries which are closing down their own aluminium plants and are encouraging imports from countries like India. Japan has reduced its aluminium smelting capacity from 12 lakh tonnes to 1.04 lakh tonnes and is importing 90 per cent of its aluminium requirements. Several Japanese companies have expressed a desire to set up joint ventures in India's export processing zones to manufacture aluminium products with buy-back arrangements. The survival of the tribals of Gandhamardan is thus threatened because the wealthy countries want to preserve their environment and their luxurious lifestyle.

The export imperative that has been guiding the mining industry in India is no less destructive to the people living in the iron ore rich Western Ghats. The export-oriented Kudremukh iron ore mines produce 7 million tonnes of concentrated iron ore from the magnetite deposits of the extremely high rainfall zone of the Tungabhadra catchment. Nearly 21 million tonnes of tailing washed annually into the reservoir of the Tungabhadra project drastically reduces its water storage capacity and total life.

Open cast mining in the iron ore belt of North Goa, between Honda and Usgao, has disrupted the hydrological balance of Goa's hills. Professor Marathe of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, has shown that the annual loss of groundwater due to mining in the belt amounts to 0.28 metres.

Whether it is iron ore in Goa or Karnataka, bauxite in the hills of Madhya Pradesh or Orissa, coal in the nation's energy capital Singrauli, limestone in the Doon Valley or magnetite in Kumaon, open cast mining on catchment slopes has drastically reduced the water resources of the country. Mining increases surface run-off and decreases infiltration. The increased run-off combined with the choking of water courses with overburdens and fines are causing floods and droughts in regions-which had stable and perennial supplies of water. In the context of the unprecedented water scarcity facing the country, the role of mining in the hydrological destabilisation of mountain watersheds can no longer be ignored. The movements of local people against ecologically destructive mining are movements for water security and survival.

The Conflict Over Limestone Quarrying in the Doon Valley

The doon valley is a distinct ecobiome in the district of dehradun, situated in the himalayan foothills of the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Recently, it has become the focus of a serious conflict over the mode of utilisation of the rich limestone deposits located in the Mussoorie Hills which form the northern boundary of the Valley. For one interest group (including the operators of the limestone quarries and the scientific and technical agencies of the state government in charge of geology and mining), the most productive use of the limestone deposits in the Valley lies in their extraction for commercial and industrial use. For the other and much larger interest group (consisting of the local communities, both rural and urban), the most productive use of the same limestone deposits lies in their in situ function in conserving the large volumes of rain water that falls in the Mussoorie Hills during the monsoon every year. The economic activities as well as the survival of the local communities depend almost exclusively on this vital water resource. It is clear that these two functions of the limestone deposits are antagonistic and mutually exclusive; utilisation based on one actually negates the other.

During the last three decades the limestone industry in the Doon Valley, consisting of both quarrying of limestone and its processing, received a lot of encouragement, which led to its accelerated growth. For the people residing in the Valley, this growth has threatened the material basis of survival through the destructive impact of the limestone industry on the hydrological balance of the Valley' Damage to vital resources such as water, through the destruction of the essential ecological processes controlling the hydrological balance of the Valley, has been perceived by the people as a violation of their political and economic right to a decent though often minimal share of the vital resources that are needed for their biological and economic sustenance.

This issue of violation, through ecological destruction, of the people's rights, has been presented before the Supreme Court of India in an attempt to seek justice which is apt to be denied in the economic world when it is dominated by profit motives and market forces. This initiative to seek justice, which is rather exemplary, came from the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Centre in Dehradun, and was supported by interventions from citizens' pressure groups, such as the Save Mussoorie Society and the Friends of the Doon. The petition was also supported by those official agencies whose concern coincided with that of the citizens. These agencies included the Department of Environment" of the Government of India and the City Board of Mussoorie. The litigation is in the course of decision in accordance with the due process of law of the Supreme Court of India. The historical and ecological background of the conflicts over natural resources in the Doon Valley will be analysed here.

Fragile Ecosystems of the Doon Valley

The disruption of essential ecological processes, caused by the exploitation of natural resources by violating the ecological principles, is registered very quickly in the sensitive and unstable ecosystems comprising the local ecobiome. In such regions, conflicts over natural resources are apt to become acute within a short time. The Himalayas, which are said to comprise the youngest mountain system of the world, form one such fragile super ecobiome, whose fragility is due in some degree to their inherent geological instability and furthermore to the violence of the monsoon rains that they arrest and moderate.

As shown in Figure 10.1, the Doon Valley is bounded on the north-east by the lesser Himalayan Ranges, and on the eastern half of its south-west by the Shivalik Ranges. The two most important rivers of North India, the Ganga and the Yamuna, demarcate its south-eastern and north-western boundaries, respectively. The 'fragility' of the Doon Valley is further accentuated by the presence of a major boundary fault passing through the northern parts of the Valley and by the unusually heavy rainfall of about 2,000 mm per year. The average width of the Valley is about 20 km, and the length is nearly 70 km. The Doon Valley ecobiome comprises two distinct sub-catchments, one formed by the drainage basin discharging into the Ganga a little south of Rishikesh, and the other formed by the drainage- basin discharging into the Yamuna near Rampur Mahdi (just outside Dehradun district). Thus the Doon Valley forms a sub-catchment for the Ganga Yamuna rivers system which carries the vital water resources for the northern part of the Indian subcontinent.

The Lesser Himalayan Ranges, which form the northern boundary of the Doon Valley, are part of the Great Himalayan Range. The Shivalik Ranges, which form the southern boundary of the Valley, are alluvial formations that are younger than the Himalayas, as they were formed by the debris which was swept down from the mountains. The Shivalik Ranges present a stiff face to the plains, while a long and gentle slope meets the foot of the Himalayas to form a shallow longitudinal valley. These valleys or longitudinal depressions formed between the Shivaliks and the Himalayas are generally called 'Duns'. They are not continuous but are cut through by streams that drain the adjacent mountains. In some places the Duns disappear with the merging of the Shivaliks and the Lesser Himalayas. The lower parts of these Duns are generally covered by a deposit of boulders, so that the floor of the Valley is considerably higher than the level of the plains beyond the Shivaliks.

Owing to this elevation of the Duns and the short distance over which the drainage from them meets the water courses in the plains, the landscape is marked by deep gorges and gullies, which cut through the unconsolidated strata that form the floors of these valleys. For the same reason, tapping of underground water through wells has not been as feasible in the Valley as in the plains.

Figure 10.1 Geografical and Land Use Map of the Door V Valley (a)

Geografical and Land Use Map of the Door V Valley (b)

The Shivaliks belong to a tertiary belt consisting of conglomerates interbedded with clays and sandstones. The bands of clay give cohesion to the soil and improve its physical qualities. This belt meets the older, pre-tertiary Himalayan belt at the main boundary fault, which separates the rocks of the pre-tertiary age from those of the tertiary age and is a major tectonic feature of the area. Tectonic movements that are continuing at the rate of about 2 cm per year, have moved the older rocks of the Mussoorie area to cover the younger belt of the Doon Valley. The rocks in this dislocation zone are thus fractured, crushed and weakened. In the Mussoorie area this boundary fault coincides with the Krol formation of limestone rock which is folded into a syncline called the Mussoorie syncline. The town of Mussoorie is located in this synclinic formation.

On the basis of its rock and soil structure the Valley can be divided into three belts or ranges, namely, the Lesser Himalayan belt, the Doon Valley proper, and the Shivalik belt. The Lesser Himalayan belt consists of high grade limestone and shales at the base, passing gradually to dolomite towards the top, which is covered by a thin layer of soil. The Doon Valley proper is covered by unstratified and mixed pebbles and boulders with very little matrix. The Doon gravels of the Pleistocene age are covered by a thin layer of soil except in the river beds. These gravels are highly pervious, forming a poor water reservoir. The boulder bed of the drainage channels provides the underground course for most streams originating in the Himalayas, many of which disappear deep into the boulder bed for long stretches, only to reappear near the edges of the plateau where they encounter the impermeable clay formations. The natural abundance of water in the Valley, particularly in its eastern part, is reported in the Settlement Report of Bakery

At present the Eastern Doon is a vast natural reservoir or feeder of the Ganges. The forests are intercepted with running streams rising from innumerable springs in every direction, and the ground is literally oozing with water. The volume of water poured into the Ganges by the Suswa and Song is immense.

A diagrammatic section of the Doon Valley showing its three distinct geological belts is presented in Figure 10.2. These belts are related to the hydrological characteristics of the Valley, which received the highest rainfall in Northern India, apart from Cherapunji. The rainfall intensity is highest in the northern parts of the Valley, the annual average in Dehradun, Rajpur (about 8 km farther north), and Mussoorie, being 185, 266 and 197 cm, respectively. This abundant precipitation on the southern slopes of the Mussoorie Hills infiltrates the fractured limestone belt which has a high degree of porosity and therefore high storage capacity. This capacity of fissured limestone gives rise to perennial springs and streams, such as those of Bhitarli, Kiarkuli, Arnigad and Baldi. The acquirers in this belt conserve large quantities of water for dry seasons, and reduce that part of the precipitation that is lost as seasonal run-off during the monsoons. The spring fed streams disappear underground when they meet the Doon gravels, and reappear as rivers such as the Suswa and Asan in the lower clay formations of the Valley.

The sources of the water resources of the Doon Valley are thus, in the final analysis, linked with the surface and sub-soil structure of the Lesser Himalayas. The vegetation supported by the thin top soil helps in the interception of the torrential rainfall by both the canopy and the leaf litter. This helps to reduce run-off and increase infiltration of water to the suh-surface, while the high porosity of the fracture d limestone heft permits the storage of water for year around discharge.

Figure 10.2 7 Sectional View of the Doon Valley (From West to East)

.Origin of the Lime Rush

Direct and major human interference in the limestone deposits began in 1900, when the railway line was brought to Dehradun and the forest department started selling quarrying rights to the limestone deposits at a royalty of Rs. 5 per 100 cubic feet (ca 2,832 dm3). An attempt by the government to assume full control of all limestone deposits was challenged in the court by the local landlords. They argued that the boulders on the surface of the earth and river beds were not mines, and their objections were upheld. As a result, surface boulders were declared as not to be quarried, until the settlement of 1904 which declared all quarries as government property.

Table 10.1

Extraction of Limestone and Marble in Delhradun

Limestone Marble Total
1977 323753 101010 103213 527976
1978 436561 100515 106996 644072
1979 520454 114760 134774 769988
1980 390572 121879 136321 648772
1980-81 430278 132202 139015 701495
1981-82 471196 166962 123278 761436

In 1911, four quarries were being worked in the Doon Valley, and by 1982 there were nearly 100 quarry leaseholders holding about 1,250 hectares of leased area. Out of these, nearly SO per cent are in operation. The limestone of the Doon `/alley, being of high purity, has a ready market in the steel, chemicals, sugar, textile, and other industries. The amount of extraction of limestone and marble in the vicinity of Dehradun for the period 1977-82 is given in Table 10.1.

The Ecological Crisis Generated by Quarrying

Quarrying in the doon valley has disturbed the ecosystem dras tically. the limestone belt in the Mussoorie Hills lies in a tectonically active zone, and a geological thrust was created by the extension of the older pre-tertiary rocks of the Mussoorie Hills over the younger tertiary rocks of the Doon Valley. The thrust is disturbed by a series of of&hoot faults, rendering the region geologically unstable.

The extraction of minerals by open cast mining first disturbs the land-soil-vegetation system by the removal of the vegetation, the top soil, and the overburden, for surface quarrying. This disturbance would be associated with surface mining anywhere. It is, however, accentuated locally by the precipitous slopes and high rainfall, which add to the land's instability caused by mining.

The actual process of extraction of limestone thereafter creates the second ecological impact on land resources, which is unique to the fragile and sensitive ecosystems that characterize the Doon Valley. The use of explosives to remove the rocks further weakens the already weak rock structure. Explosives also activate faults in the dislocation zone of the main boundary thrust, where the quarries in the Mussoorie area are located. The result is induced slope failure and landslides, which are increasing in the region since the mining operations began.

Effects of steep gradients and high rainfall

The steep gradient of the hills and the high rainfall in the Valley contribute further to this instability, as has already been indicated. Landslides raise the beds of streams and rivers, by piling up debris in these drainage channels. The combination of heavy monsoons, bare slopes, and silted river beds, leads to flood in a valley, that was endowed by nature with excellent drainage. Floods, in turn, further destroy land resources downstream, because silted river beds lead to unpredictable changes in the course of rivers, which begin to cut their banks. The upper parts of the streams are thus intricately linked with the lower parts, forming a single ecological continuum in which manipulation of land resources upstream leads to the destruction of land resources downstream. These induced instabilities in land resources have been so large in magnitude that they are conspicuously visible.

A less visible process of destruction has been associated with the water resources of the Doon Valley, which is served entirely by rain fed streams originating in the Mussoorie Hills. The limestone deposits, besides being a reservoir of water, overlap the catchment of these streams. The ecological crisis generated by limestone quarrying is reflected by the fact that, in a valley with abundant rainfall, areas affected by mining no longer have enough water available for the sustenance of crops or humans. Furthermore, all streams and rivers serving the Valley are affected by the run-off of the Mussoorie Hills, as all of them are fed by recharging of subsurface storage systems in this catchment area. The Suswa and Asan rivers, which emerge in the lowest drainage line of the Valley, also provide sub-surface and delayed drainage of the Mussoorie Hills. Tampering with the limestone belt implies direct destruction of the recharge basin of all water sources in the Valley

Further impacts of quarrying

The impact of quarrying is also reflected in the flow characteristics of the springs and streams in the Doon Valley. As in the last few years, quarrying has led to the most drastic changes in the surface characteristics of the catchments-both in terms of extent and intensity-decline in the lean period base flow in the streams can be linked with it. The lean period flow in the Rajpur and Bijapur Canal systems, which tap the water from the Rispana and Tons rivers, respectively is shown in Figure 10.3.

Moreover, the destruction of the internal hydrological system is reflected in the fact that the spring sources of all villages surveyed in the local catchments have registered an average decrease of nearly 50 per cent in their lean period discharges over the last two decades. Such disturbance of the hydrological cycle resulting from human intervention in the limestone belt in the processes of quarrying seems unavoidable and an expensive impact of quarrying.

Figure 10.3 Changes in the Lean Period Flow in Doon Canals

This disturbance has been further accentuated by the impact of the disposal of overburdens and 'finest' on the hill slopes, and by the landslides induced by mining related activities in this sensitive region. The resulting debris covers large areas of the hill slopes Ludlow the limestone belt. As the debris deposited has little water infiltration capacity, there is a drastic decline in the effective catchment area in the Mussoorie Hills which in turn leads to surface run-off.

Thus the situation of the limestone belt is such that the real impact of quarrying on the hydrological characteristics of the hill surface will, through the deposition of debris, be several times as extensive as the total area of the quarries. The area of land under debris may even be several orders of magnitude greater than the leasehold area of quarrying. Moreover during heavy rainfall, which is common in the Doon Valley, debris is carried by the run-off to the river beds. This in turn raises the river beds, changes the course of rivers, leads to soil erosion in the adjoining agricultural land and forests, and blocks the vital canal systems of the Valley. The ecological impact of quarrying, in terms of destabilized land and water resources, is clearly indicated by the transformation of the boulder beds of the Doon Valley rivers into debris covered beds following the introduction of quarrying.

More than a century ago, Williams" reported that there was no 'kunkar' ('kunkur', kunkar', 'coucher', etc., coarse limestone sheets or nodules) or 'bajri' (limestone debris) available in the Valley. According to him, 'the geological formation of the Valley itself, a vast shingle-bed interspersed with (tracts of) sand, having a partial covering of loam, forbids the existence of kunkar, the substitute for which is stone metalling, procured by breaking up the boulders found in the mountain torrents.

Devastating silting and flooding

This description remained applicable to the Doon Valley until recently, when the impact of three decades of quarrying became painfully evident through the deposition of materials carried down by the mountain torrents during each monsoon. As a result. the boulder strewn beds of the rivers were transformed into ever rising depositories of debris Rispana river bed, boulders disappeared about ten years ago, while in the Tons river bed a major inflow of debris about 6 feet (nearly 2 metres) in height was recorded after the 1982 monsoon. The Baldi river's bed has been rising constantly, threatening roads and bridges in the area of Sahastradhara, which lies about 1 km upstream of its confluence with the Song river. Buildings near the only bridge over the Baldi river have already been washed away, and the cumulative piling up of 'bajri' will, in the near future, pose a serious threat of floods in large parts of the Valley.

Such floods have already begun to affect villages on the banks of the Asan, the Baldi, and the Song rivers. Distance does not save these remote villages from the destructive impact of quarrying, as they are part of the overall ecobiome, being linked to one another by a common drainage channel, and to that extent belonging to a natural ecological unit. The upper parts of the streams have an impact on the lower parts, and quarrying upstream affects activities further downstream, sometimes quite drastically.

Besides damaging land and property along the river beds, the debris loaded flow in rivers has started choking canal works, thus heavily increasing their maintenance costs and the vulnerability of the water distribution system. Costs for removal of the debris in the canals, which were insignificant until the last decade, have risen to Rs. 5 lakhs in the last monsoon. The Irrigation Department, which looks after the Doon Canals, has to employ a large labour force to work around the clock throughout the monsoons, so that the canal head is not blocked by silt and other debris. The maintenance team is involved in such activities as not allowing the rivers to change their course in order to ensure that the water reaches the canal head, clearing out debris from the canal head and the canals.

At times the torrent is so :powerful and the load of silt is so heavy that it is physically impossible to remove the silt quickly. In mid August 1983, Dehradun city went without water for several days because the Rajpur Canal was entirely silted up. It is expected that within a period of ten years the entire canal works will be threatened by rising torrents and the concomitant destruction of flood protection works. Unfortunately, the cost associated with the destruction of this vital water conservation and distribution system has so far not been recognised as a negative externality of quarrying, because the processes by which quarrying threatens water resources have not been recognised. Through water, the impact of quarrying is carried to the human settlements, which depend on these water resources for survival.


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