Pollution from copper mine threatens Indian villages

Asia’s largest copper mine in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is causing serious damage to the environment.

Pollution from copper mine threatens Indian villages

World Bulletin / News Desk

Silkan Merawi is worried about the numerous scars on her body. She wears a traditional Indian sari dress to cover them up. She is also worried about the chronic pain in her stomach. But she cannot cover that up. For 45 years, she has been drinking the water available in her village of Chhinditola. At a little distance from the village, there is copper mine plant .The one that has been contaminating the water since 1982.

“We’re forced to drink the local water, which is very harmful for our health,” said Silkar to the Anadolu Agency.

"The sand from the mine sticks to our bodies and makes us sick. There are scars all over my body. We’ve complained to the authorities but no one is ready to listen to us.”

Asia’s largest copper mine, located in Malajkhand in Balaghat district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh threatens the tribal and indigenous communities living nearby because of the environmental contamination brought by the mining activities.

And the state-owned mining company Hindustan Copper Limited (HCL) - which operates the mine - plans to increase its production capacity from 2 million tons per year to 5 million as soon as it receives necessary environmental clearances from India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests, which may happen as soon as December of 2014. India ranks 4th amongst the mineral producer countries, behind China, Russia and United States, on the basis of volume of production.

Environmentalists fear this will accelerate forest destruction and lead to further contamination of the surrounding environment.

35-year-old Amarwati works in an Aganwadi, a government sponsored child-care and mother-care center in India) in Chhinditola. She says that children who come here become ill most of the time.

“The residual waste from the plant has changed our lives. The water that we consume is unsafe as acidic mine waste leaks into water bodies. People drinking this water suffer from diseases. Our farms have become toxic. Some of the fields have been transformed into quagmire. Our livelihood has been destroyed. Children are the worst-hit and are often ill,” said Amarwati.

Already in 2007, the Centre of Environmental Science and Engineering at the Bhilai Institute of Technology had pointed out that the plant was indeed causing serious damage to the environment in Malajkhand and is hartmful for the health of both humans and animals.

Scientist Piyush Pandey attached to the Centre argued that drainage from the mine was definitively toxic. He stated in a report, “Wastewater leaking through the plant’s tailings dam (constructed to retain the water-sodden, fine-grained materials, or tailings, which represent the waste product) contains large quantity of heavy metals. Results prove a very significant impact on the environmental health.”

The effect of the pollution is visible within a 15 km radius of the mine in villages of which Baiga and Gond tribes are major inhabitants. Mounds of white and yellow sand have formed in areas where the company dumps its waste products. But 10 villages like Chhinditola, Borkedha, Suji and Nayatola, which are located very close to the plant, bear the brunt of its impact.

50-year-old Dharam Singh, who owns 20 acres of land in the village of Chhinditola, claims that the pollution is affecting crop yield.

“The water that we drink, the air that we breathe are highly polluted Our fields have turned barren. Farm productivity decreases year by year. We contacted officials of Hindustan Copper Limited, as well as the district administration. But the authorities haven’t taken heed.”

Just in case he hasn’t been clear, he immediately takes off his shirt to show the blisters on his body, which he claims, have been caused by the acidic waste from the copper mine.

It has recently started supplying water to the villages. But two tanker trucks a day has proved grossly insufficient for the large number of people residing in the area. As a result, on average, a family receives water only once a week.

The company had previously supplied water filters to locals but they proved ineffective as they only removed the soil and dust from the water, not the noxious dissolved impurities. The villagers returned the water filters to the company in protest.

As The Hindustan Copper Limited moves to start underground mining in Malajkhand, its chief manager, SK Verma, sought to downplay the damage caused by copper mines.

While he admits there existed some pollution due to mining and the discharge of waste, he claims that it has neither been very serious nor has it affected people’s lives.

“Whenever a factory or plant is set up, it causes some pollution,” Verma told the Anadolu Agency. But we always try to minimize the damage to the environment. Whenever we receive complaints from people, we take action immediately.”

He went on to say there would be at least 80 percent reduction in the level of pollution (compared to present pollution levels) once the underground mining starts.

Asked why the company was supplying water through tankers if the locally available water was not contaminated, Verma replied that it had been done because the villagers had demanded it.

He added Hindustan Copper Limited had set up a mobile health clinic for affected villages, where free treatment and medicines were provided to locals.

However, the villagers said the clinic comes only once in a month with a meager staff of one doctor and two nurses.

And, while the clinic provides medicine for basic ailments such as the flu or diarrhea, they do not offer medicine for skin diseases and diphtheria, which are quite common in the area.

And Silkan Merawi remains worried. 

Last Mod: 26 Temmuz 2014, 15:58
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