The huge human cost of stress in mining sector

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The huge human cost of stress in mining sector

Thursday, 20 February 2020 | Charudutta Panigrahi

A survey observed a strong connection between unemployment due to mining closure and mental distress across States. Workers exposed to the negative labour demand shock are facing very low chances of re-entering the job market

Recently, we celebrated 71 years of India’s existence as a Republic and thus it would be pertinent to remember Article 21 of the Constitution, which deals with fundamental rights without which a republic would mean nothing. The fundamental right to life as enshrined in Article 21 includes the right to work. It is time for civil society to start talking collectively about livelihood which is recognised as a human right in many communities.

We need to get a more inclusive understanding of what we mean by livelihoods: Life engagement with land, water, forest, right to food, income, food security and the like. So, the first step in building up a narrative is building up a common understanding of what we mean by right to livelihoods.

As we know, livelihood encompasses issues of productive resources and access to resources and involves concerns in labour and goods markets. Work conditions in all sectors are central to the discourse and in particular recognition of work, generating employment, job security and wages.

The mining sector in India has witnessed largescale loss of livelihoods in recent times. On one hand India is aiming for a $5 trillion economy and on the other we are now finding it difficult to compete with emerging economies like Vietnam and Egypt. It is imperative to focus significantly on the mining sector with concerted efforts to regain its three per cent share and more in the GDP by 2024-25. The sector’s GDP share in 2018-19 was 2.6 per cent, down from three per cent in 2011-12. Ever since the Supreme Court cancelled 88 mining leases in Goa on February 7, 2018, life has come to a grinding halt for more than 3,00,000 mining dependents. The State, once the richest economy in India, is now sluggish and the complete closure of mining activities has devastated families and brought about unimaginable misery in the lives of people. In neighbouring Karnataka, too, the ban on ore exports, e-auctions and quota systems in ore production have led to a floundering economy, severely denting the State’s development and growth.

The recently-published sourcebook of FIDR, Mining: A Prudent Perspective, is based on a survey of 2,415 people from five major States whose economies are mainly mining- driven, namely Goa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Karnataka. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this is the first-ever such report about the people’s perception and attitudes toward the mining industry. The study has clearly brought out the impact of the uncertainties due to the ban on mining in these States. The social set-up and the families of miners are in the doldrums due to joblessness and deprivation of livelihoods.

In Goa, the closure of mining has resulted in a State-wide economic crisis of sorts. Karnataka has witnessed similar economic plight in the wake of the curbs. The FIDR survey indicates that in the five States, mining contributes to over 12 per cent (on an average) of the State’s GDP. In Goa, stoppage of iron ore mining has impacted revenues worth Rs 34 billion and the livelihood of several dependent segments as it has left stakeholders without an alternate source of income. This repeated stoppage of mining in Goa, Odisha and Karnataka has also led to loss of investor confidence which would have a long-term impact on their economies.

Almost all the respondents (over 90 per cent) agree that the mining sector has brought significant economic benefits for their communities and generated fiscal revenue, export earnings, relieved constraints to investment, spurred economic growth and created jobs. It has also contributed to infrastructure building. However, they also opine that realising and enhancing these benefits require action, primarily from the Government, but also from mining companies, local communities, employers and businesses in the country. Fiscal revenues from the extractive industry — taxes, royalties and other payments — are the major reasons why governments seek to promote its growth in their States. However, revenues from mining and benefits from them do not flow in automatically. To translate fiscal revenues from the extractive industry into sustainable development benefits, governments need to design and institute fiscal regimes that ensure a fair share of benefits to the States/country, which are also attractive for investors.

About half of the respondents believe strongly that mining drives economic growth through its linkages with the rest of the economy, such as by buying goods and services from suppliers (backward linkages) and by supplying minerals (forward linkages). Barring about 13 per cent, a majority (about eight of 10 stakeholders) describe mining as beneficial as long as the industry works to mitigate its impacts or it is properly regulated. The findings from the survey suggest that the more the participants felt that mining created economic, employment and community benefits, the greater was their acceptance of it. This sounds obvious but should be viewed in relation to the unshakeable faith these communities repose in nature, the ecology and the environment. Like in Odisha, all the mines are located in the remote, low-income, tribal-inhabited geographies. The forest dwellers have deep faith in nature, the flora and fauna which they revere. Hence social licence to operate in these areas would directly relate to how community perceptions of mining associated impacts and benefits relate to its endorsement.

It is clear, that the closure of mines has spiked vulnerability of the community. The survey observed a strong connection between unemployment due to mining closure and mental distress across States. Workers exposed to the negative labour demand shock are facing very low chances of re-entering employment. Either they lack the required skill set appropriate for other industries and line of work or there are no available employment opportunities. This is leading to long unemployment spells resulting in spiralling of large-scale mental health problems. One in every five persons is suffering from depression and other forms of mental issues.

The survey also discovered that the psychological cost of parental unemployment has been higher on children, leading to general despondency, while teenagers are starting to feel pressured to take on more responsibility in the family. Many have become more aware of the social stigma associated with having jobless parents. It is imperative that the judiciary, legislature and the executive take cognisance of the grim livelihoods scenario threatening all of us. Necessary remedial measures need to be taken at the earliest to help these States, particularly Goa, tide over a catastrophe of inconceivable ramifications — social, economic and intergenerational.

(The writer is an author and TED speaker)

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