Black clouds over Saranda: Centre set to open up 43000 ha of Jharkhand’s forests for mining

State government is amending the Management Plan for Sustainable Mining to suit its agenda pushing the forests into a dangerous and irreversible cycle of exploitation’: the current BJP government in the state is all set to dilute many of these environment friendly provisions and make matters worse for one of the densest forests in India, a home to elephants and forest dwelling peoples

It is a policy move and development that has sent tremours down environmental human rights activists. The conservation/ no-mining zone in Saranda and Chaibasa in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand may be opened for iron ore mining. The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has decided to form a committee to explore the prospect of opening up these zones.

The Saranda forests in the hilly regions of West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand are dense forests that stretch over an area of 82,000 ha. These forests were one of the most pristine in India, and are the largest Sal forests in the country. They support a large variety of floral and faunal biodiversity, and are an important elephant corridor. An expert panel appointed by the Government of India in 2011, identified 480 new species of fauna and flora in the region. The core area of these forests are also ancestral home to about 56 villages which are mostly composed of the Ho and MundaAdivasi communities. The 36,000 strong tribal communities have lived sustainably within the forests for centuries and have played a key role in the maintenance and protection of the forests.

The Management Plan for Sustainable Mining (MSPM) which came into existence in June, 2018 may be amended for the purpose of opening up the no-mining zones. Earlier, there have already been a flurry of modifications made to the MPSM like merging Zone I and II mining areas, removal of the clause for Impact Assessment and scrapping of the role of the forest department in creating the mining plan. These modifications also opened up mineral blocks in the no-mining areas of Ankua and Chidia. In the MPSM, the allowing of the 13 mines in this area was dependent on the government. However, MoEF has deleted this clause to bring these under the provisions of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act (MMDR).

Reportedly, the Jharkhand Chief Secretary, DK Tiwari wrote to the MOEF&CC in March 2019 and had sought a reassessment study to open up the conservation zone for mining.

Tiwari wrote to CK Mishra saying, “The conservation zone is a repository to huge iron ore resources and so the stipulation in the MSPM report for complete ban on mining in conservation zone should be revisited”.

“The reassessment study requested by the state may be carried out by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education with representation from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad in the study team,” the MOEF&CC wrote to Tiwari.

Per Down to Earth, the Jharkhand Chief Minister, Raghubar Das also wrote to the ministry seeking permission for Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL). He had argued that MSPM has affected SAIL financially as it had made huge investments to mine that area. Based on this, “the CM has asked the ministry to dilute the MSPM,” a state official told Down to Earth on condition of anonymity.

The MPSM was finalised in June 2018, soon after, the state government wrote to the MoEF&CC requesting to amend the plan on August 14.
As per the MSPM, the Saranda forest was divided into three zones- mining zone I (approximately 10,670 hectares), mining zone II (approximately 2,161 ha) and conservation zone/no-mining zone (approximately 43,000 ha). The no-mining area has mining proposals from SAIL, JSW Group, Vedanta Ltd and others. 

A committee comprising MoEF&CC, Union Ministry of Mines, Union Ministry of Steel, Union Ministry of Coal and the Jharkhand government was created by MoEF&CC to look into modifications/ amendments to the MSPM. On February 4, the committee met and amended some provisions of the MSPM. It did away with the clause that mining zone II can only be accessed after the ores in mining zone I were exhausted. A detailed study was proposed by the state government. The purpose of the study was to undertake the reassessment of the biodiversity richness and ecosystem services rendered by the conservation area so as to extract iron ore to meet the future steel demands.

“Concern for SAIL is just a front, the state government wants to open up the no-go mining area because a major chunk of the good quality iron ore is just lying there,” the official said.

In 2014, the MoEF had stopped giving fresh mining clearances in the area after the Shah Commission report found major violation of the MMDR by the mining companies in the area. The MoEF had mandated that fresh lease would only be given after the MPSM had been created.  

The Justice M. B. Shah Commission submitted its ‘First Report on illegal mining of iron and manganese ores (four volumes) in the State of Jharkhand’ October 14, 2013. In its first report on illegal mining in Jharkhand, the Commission said that despite a delay in renewal of the mining licence by the Jharkhand Government, miners continued to exploit the area leased to them without fresh green approvals. The Commission hadfoundand highlighted illegal production in 26 iron and manganese ore leases. These leases include iron ore mines of, among others, Tata Steel, Steel Authority of India Ltd, Rungta Mines, Usha Martin, Rameshwar Jute Mills, and Singhbhum Minerals Co.

As a response, the MoEF&CC awarded the carrying capacitystudy in Saranda Forest Division to Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), Dehradun to suggest annual capacity for iron ore production. The ICFRE submitted its report on March 28, 2016, which was again examined by a committee constituted by the MoEFF&CC on April 4, 2016.Based on the committee’s recommendations the ICFRE report was accepted by the competent authority in the MoEF& CC. The ICFRE study was conducted to comply with the recommendations of Shah Commission of Enquiry.

Some of the observations included, “It was commented that IBM has approved mining schemes to increase production during the mining plan period without application of mind to the ingredient”

Further that, “For modification of mining plan, conditions mentioned in the Rules are required to be satisfied which was totally ignored and created multi fold environmental hazards to the Saranda Forest. The conditions have become more aggravated, since the mines are located in clusters and transport through common roads used by them. The roads cannot sustain this load and remain always in dilapidated conditions beyond repair, as observed by the Commission during its visit.”

In view of many such grave violations, the MPSM came up with an underlying principle “to divert minimum forest area for mining and producing maximum output depending upon the approved mining plan and Environment clearance (EC) under EP Act 1986”

The plan gave detailed outlines of forest area, conditions for sustainable mining etc.

However, the current BJP government in the state is all set to dilute many of these environment friendly provisions and make matters worse for one of the densest forests in India, a home to elephants and forest dwelling peoples.



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