The world seems to have grudgingly arrived at the conclusion that no human development is possible sans protection of the environment, our common heritage fundamental to any planning process or development paradigm anywhere.
Closer home, it is also becoming increasingly apparent that despite all the intent and policy on sustainable development which goes hand in hand with protecting this heritage, the environment continues to be ruthlessly exploited. We witness the continuous stripping of green cover and mindless extraction of the mineral wealth from the belly of the earth.
It is heartening that the Environment ministry has taken bold and painstaking initiatives to define areas where coal mining can be allowed, which clearly demarcate the 'out of bounds' areas euphemistically referred to as 'No Go'.
Understandably coal is a high priority area, impacting the energy generation in a country poised for a period of high-growth. On the flip side of course is the issue of 'burning fossil fuels', which is linked to global warming, and the phenomenon of climate change.
While this is being scrutinised by the government and by the environmental lobby, which keeps a hawk's eye, what is falling off the radar is the illegal mining taking place in large swathes of our country for a variety of metal and mineral wealth. The effect of this 'illegal' industry has probably not been evaluated but continues to cause havoc in areas in our country, some known, others shrouded in secrecy and intrigue.
Driven by greed essentially but sustained typically by a nexus of brokers, dealers, agents which serves to liaise between the local government authorities and the mine owners. This is the noxious mix which marks this network of illegal mining which remains unseen, unreported and quietly causing devastation robbing the earth of its wealth in a manner which remains undefined, unregulated but what is worse abetted by those in authority.
What is urgently required is to 'open the frame' and bring this 'hidden' industry into the ambit of scrutiny by those who are carrying the mantle at the national level. It is not enough to merely develop regulations for what is already in the public eye and following the set of norms established.
It is vital to move beyond that to first establish what is really going on across the country and then develop a regulatory framework. It is something like a mirror which if polished will reflect brilliantly while its reverse side, which nobody sees, is completely dark, opaque. Mining in this country is something like this, having a visible side and an invisible side, perhaps more dangerous.
Of course any kind of mining, quarrying activities is bound to disrupt the habitats and lives of the community in those rural areas. This often is like a double-edged sword. It also opens up livelihood opportunities albeit in an unregulated, illegal industry. This is the bitter reality, the terrible irony which marks such 'enterprises': a region and its people being sucked into destroying the land and natural resources on which is based their own sustainability.
In Munger district, Bihar, this is in naked display. The region has been known for the simple charm of its undulating land, its forests, for its cultivation of 'paan' and 'arhar' with majority of the people engaged in agriculture. It is today witnessing a blitzkrieg torn asunder by the tentacles of mining industry.
The area is witness to an array of activities operating in stealth, flouting the norms of environmental protection, the law of the land and the guidelines laid down by the government. What is alarming is the speed with which lush forests are disappearing. What is perhaps a cause for greater alarm is the sheer inaction and possible complicity of the officials in the area.
The face of Munger has changed. Hillsides are being laid bare and trucks laden with stones ply on the roads continuously. For those who live in the vicinity, the drone of the engines and the honking by heavy traffic has made life unbearable.
Of the 200 villages in the district, perhaps the most affected is Pattam block. A pall of fine dust is found everywhere in people's homes. Pushed to the wall many families are picking up their belongings and migrating.
What does this portend for the area, once a quiet and beautiful countryside? Will it become bereft of humanity, an abandoned place? . The question is who is in charge? Whose writ runs?
The writing on the wall is clear. The base of agriculture is facing a shortage of labour, being diverted to this alternate industry. Yes it is illegal, even dangerous but for the local communities industrial labour is better paying than in the more traditional work in agriculture.
Infact this industry feeds on such vulnerabilities and creates a niche for itself despite being detrimental to the larger environment, social and ecological. .
The mining now covers an area of 300 acres gradually eroding the natural and mineral wealth of Munger. It is also taking a toll on the health of the community. Few are aware that they suffer from silicosis, a dreaded condition; nor are the government health services geared to meet this situation. Long after the wealth has been extracted, money pocketed will the men, women and children of Munger continue to pay the price with their health.
What needs to be understood is that it is not about Pattam or Munger or Bihar but is a crucial issue which finds resonance across the country and demands corrective action It needs not only a laying down of norms, but stringent checks and crackdown on those flouting them.
The Charkha Development Communication Network feels it is too heavy a price to pay for a region, a state and indeed a nation, which is on the path to striking that elusive but worthy balance between environment and growth.