Dr. P. K. Jena in Bhubaneswar, November 30, 2020: Minerals are one of the important natural resources available in earth crust. Some of these named as fuel minerals like coal and oil are used as fuel in transport and industrial sectors and also for producing energy.

Some other minerals known as metallic minerals are used for producing various types of metals like iron, aluminium, copper, lead, zinc, etc. These and their alloys are used extensively as structural materials for fabricating machines, furnaces, constructing transport systems, rail roads etc.

The third type of minerals which are known as non – metallic minerals like granite, quartz, limestone, dolomite, magnesite etc. are used in production of refractories and chemicals and also for construction of roads, buildings, industries etc. Mineral resources unlike other natural resources like forest, water and soil, are not replenishable. In view of this, mineral resources have to be very judiciously and scientifically mined and utilized.

Most of the mines on this earth are located in areas which are full of forests and water resources. In many cases, due to lack of proper planning, prior to mining, a lot of forests are cut as well as existing water bodies get damaged during mining and dumping the over burden in an erratic manner. The most valuable fertile soil on top of the mine areas very often goes under the overburden and get lost forever.

The devastated barren and dusty appearance of mined areas is a common feature in most of the mineral rich countries. Due to all these, a highly polluted atmosphere is created in mine areas causing a lot of harm not only to the environment but also to the local community.

Further, most of the time the mining is done unscientifically resulting in wastage of a lot of low grade mineral resources which are in quantity many more times of the high grade ones. The fall in mineral production and their quality are due to lack of proper technology for carrying out selective and deeper mining. In addition to these, due to unscientific mining and also inadequate monitoring, a lot of good grade minerals are generated in form of fines and get diluted with low grade ones and the over burden.

In view of conserving and scientifically utilizing the mineral resources and at the same time for protecting the forest, water bodies as well as the environment of the area, it is essential to plan and execute integrated development of mine areas including activities like scientific mining of all grades of minerals generating least amount of mineral fines and recovering those, adopting better water resource management including rain water harvesting in the mined pits, afforestation on mine dumps and nearby barren areas and rehabilitating the displaced persons. It is very unfortunate that, the native people in mine areas as per the present practice and programme, get very little benefit. They not only lose their cultivable lands and houses but also get deprived of availing pure drinking water, wood for cooking and other forest products. In return, in most cases, they lead a poverty stricken life in a polluted atmosphere.

India is a mineral rich country. Various important minerals like coal, iron ore, bauxite, ilmenite, chromite, manganese ore, rare earths etc. are available in different parts of the country in large amounts as well as sizable amounts of atomic minerals, petroleum, natural gas and minor minerals.

There are about 3461 mines in India and those consists of 573 mines of fuel minerals, 626 mines of metallic minerals and 2262 mines of non – metallic minerals. The public sector mines contribute about 85% of the total value of the mineral production mainly in the areas of fuel and metallic minerals. The rest 15% of the total value of mineral production in private sector is mainly in the areas of metallic and non- metallic minerals.

In India, most of the mine owners do not use updated technology for mining the minerals as well as taking care of other natural resources in the region. As a result, a large amount of minerals of high economic value are lost during mining and at the same time, other valuable resources like forest, water and soil are also damaged to a great extent. In view of the above situation, it is essential to bring about various developments in mining of minerals and protecting other important resources in the region like forest, water and soil and making the mined areas productive even after completion of mining operation. In this regard, it is suggested to adopt best available technology for implementing the following programmes.

a) Framing and executing a better mine plan to recover all grades of minerals of economic value and at the same time cutting out minimum amounts of forests and avoiding destruction of existing water bodies.
b) Mechanization of mining as far as possible should be done to avoid loss of life due to various accidents.c) Managing the over burden and preserving the top soil for future reforestration programme on the over burden as well as the barren lands in the region;
d) Upgrading low and off grade ores and agglomerating ore fines as well as beneficiated products of low grade ores at the mine site;
e) Utilizing mine wastes for construction of mine roads, low cost houses, development of township for the employees in mine areas;
f) Preserving existing water bodies and under taking rain water harvesting in ground as well as in mine pits and utilizing the water in mineral processing, agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing and domestic purposes;
g) Undertaking afforestation programme through plantation of fast growing, oil seed producing and other commercial trees like bamboo, teak, sal etc. on the over burden as well as in the nearby deforested lands;
h) Executing health, educational and other socio-economic programmes particularly for the affected people in the area and motivating them to participate in the mining and allied programmes for leading a better socio-economic life.
i) The mining sector in India should take initiative in harnessing solar and wind energy and utilizing these extensively in various mining and allied activities. It may be mentioned here that, all over the world in recent years, efforts are being made to utilize solar and wind energy in mining sector particularly in remote off-grid areas as the oil price is soaring and solar and wind energy is becoming economically attractive with application of advance technology. In many cases, solar-diesel system has been found to be more attractive as it is possible to run the mining operation throughout the day and night without interruption.

In India, all the mine owners should realize that, by implementing integrated development programmes in the mine areas as mentioned, they as well as the people in the region will benefit equally and the mining activities would go on smoothly while keeping the environment clean.

Other major benefits in integrated mine area development are creation of employment opportunities for a large number of skilled and also unskilled persons and making the area productive even after mining. In this endeavour for managing the mines, the central and sate governments have a great role to play to make the programmes successful in all respects.

• Former Director General, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, India

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