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Indian conundrum over mining vs social development resurfaces

31st May 2013

By: Ajoy K Das

Creamer Media Correspondent

  

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KOLKATA (miningweekly.com) - The Indian government’s conundrum over the linkages between mining, social development and tribal extremism has resurfaced, with a Minister questioning the sanctioning of mining in forests.

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has raised questions over the approval of iron-ore and mining projects in the Saranda forest in the East Indian state of Jharkhand, by the apex Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI) headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In a communication to the Prime Minister, Ramesh said that mining projects in the forests would jeopardise massive government-funded social developmental projects and mining would not be acceptable to tribes and forest dwellers in the region, a hotbed and command centre of violent extremism.

He pointed out that sanctioning the mining projects was a reversal of the government’s stance that no new mining projects would be permitted in forestland to avoid alienating tribes and locals.

Iron-ore and manganese mining projects planned by JSW Steel and Jindal Steel & Power Limited had been approved by the CCI, and took up mega investment projects stuck at present with various Ministries, while another two mining projects were awaiting go-ahead from the CCI's.

According to the Minister, alienation of locals, owing to these mining projects, would seriously impact the $53-million worth of social development projects currently being implemented under the stewardship of the Rural Development Ministry. The projects have the aim of discouraging local support for the extremists, stemming from poverty and the absence of social infrastructure.

Ramesh has found support within government from Tribal Affairs Minister K C Deo, who said that tribal discontent over exploitation of resources by large corporates and the government should focus on the provision of social services such as healthcare, roads and education in areas plagued by extremism.

Deo’s statement was made in the wake of an extremist ambush on a convoy, which killed 27 last week, including top Congress party leadership, in neighbouring Chattisgarh, another mineral-rich province, in central India. The Congress party heads the coalition Indian federal government.

According to government information, as many as 155 mining projects across 800 km2 have been planned by the provincial government of Jharkhand and were expected to be placed before the CCI for speedy approval.

Ramesh noted that the Saranda forest had been the centre of extremism up until two years ago and that violent cadres had been cleared by use of paramilitary forces; but he claimed new mining projects would ravage the area and damage his Ministry's housing, employment and basic amenities projects, which were much more important to the locals than mining activities.

The Saranda development plan projects have been very successful in wooing extremists to the mainstream of economic and political development, which should not be derailed. This had been pointed out to the Prime Minister, the Minister said.

Edited by Esmarie Iannucci
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor: Australasia

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