Chrome valley of Sukinda pitted against apathy for long

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Chrome valley of Sukinda pitted against apathy for long

Saturday, 09 March 2024 | MANAS JENA

India became the 4th largest producer of chrome among the top five countries, including South Africa, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and Finland in the world in 2020. South Africa is the world’s leading producer of chrome and China is the single largest producer and consumer of stainless steel, followed by Korea, Taiwan and India.

 

A US geological survey estimated an annual production of 41 million tonnes of chrome in 2021 while the global reserve was about 12 billion tonnes. As per the national mineral index data based on the United Nations framework for classification of resources, India has a reserve of 344 million tonnes of chrome and a production of 3.929 thousand tonnes in the year 2020.  In India, Sukinda Vally in Jaipur continues to be the sole producer of chrome with about 98 percent reserve of the country. The rest of the reserves are found in Manipur, Nagaland, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, AP and Telangana.

 

As per Odisha Mining Corporation data, the weighted average price per metric tonne of chrome ore for the period from 20.02.2024 to 20.03.2024 is Rs 35,611 for a higher grade and Rs12,885 for sub -grade. The total value of chrome ore in the year 2020 was about Rs 3,500 crore. Chrome mining employs about 8,000 labourers daily.

 

Already, more than 40 villages in Sukinda block are directly affected by mining activities. Mining in Sukinda Valley dates back to 1949 and later got a boost in 1970 with the growth of ferrochrome and charge chrome plants in a big way. The chrome production in 1961 was only 4,000 tonnes, which has now reached to nearly 4 lakh tonnes during the last 60 years. About 22 private mining companies having captive mining and mineral-based industries have been hugely benefited by the export of chrome ore and ferrochrome/charge chrome and refractories. The TISCO, IMFA, FACOR, Mishrilal, Balasore Alloys, BC Mohanty and Sons, Sidhartha Mohanty, Jindal, SCM Tiscom, Ts Alloys, Sonali Enterprises and public sector such as OMC, IDCOL Ferro chrome and IDC of Odisha Limited have contributed to the mineral sector in terms of economic growth, but the local people have not benefited much from the whole activities in the area.

 

Sukinda and its adjacent areas are mostly dominated by tribal, Dalit and OBC communities who are mostly farmers and forest dwellers. The opencast mining activities in the area spread over about 20 km have put stress on its local agricultural economy, water, soil, and forest resources. As per the 2011 Census, the total population of Sukinda was 80,344 with 16,682 families, out of which 11,000 were Scheduled Caste and 22,000 were Scheduled Tribe. Cultivators and farmers constitute more than 8,000 of the population. There has been no substantial change in their lives and livelihood. Sukinda is home to PVTGs like Juanga and Mankidia. The vulnerable condition of the people many a time was highlighted in the media, bringing to the fore their abysmal poverty and backwardness.

 

The SCs and STs comprise a sizable number of landless families having no homestead or agriculture land. The cultivable land in their possession is not being recorded in their name, though there is provision under the OLR Act and FRA. The minimum wage rate is today different from that in non-mining areas.

 

A number of families in affected villages are entitled to get compensation for the loss of their crops due to soil and water pollution, but there is no regular survey or assessment of the loss of farmers. As a result, farming has become the last option for people. There is huge deforestation, land damage, water pollution and loss of perennial water sources, with hydrological damage in the area having a direct bearing on the agriculture and livelihood of the locals.

 

The negligence in refilling abandoned mines and treatment of both opencast and underground mining overburden and dumping is affecting the soil and ground water level of the area. The water crisis has been overlooked. It is a criminal negligence of the Government towards the people of the mining-hit areas.

 

It was expected that the villages in the mining periphery area must have basic amenities, quality education, health services and viable livelihood sources through skill development supposed to be built up out of welfare funds of mining companies and special funds from Government such as CSR and DMF, OMBADF and periphery development work, but the reality depicts a sordid tale.

 

Jajpur DMF had about Rs 2,000 crore and the adjacent Keonjhar district had about Rs 9,000 crore of mineral funds. Ironically, in spite of so much dedicated fund for the development of the area, proper planning and utilisation of the funds is missing. The DMF-Jajpur has no long-term special plan for the mining affected area considering the long- term impact on its human health, agriculture, ecology and environment.

 

The Mahagiri hill, Brahmani river, Damasala Nala and Ganda Nala etc were directly affected due to soil, water and air pollution. A number of studies by the IBM in association with Utkal University on human health and environmental have proved the danger of hexavalent chromium which is a major cause of concern for the residents of the area, but the authorities are yet to take up any mitigation plan in the area to control the contamination of water bodies and soil health. It is reported that inhalation of chromium compounds is a potential source of development of cancer, especially lung cancer, among people living close to mining activities. Lack of political will, administrative plans and monitoring and, above all, local public awareness of issues is further worsening the situation.

 

A handful of families who are direct beneficiaries of mining, such as the lease holders, raising contractors, transporters, traders and business families, are in nexus with the ruling parties and are instrumental in non-implementation of protective legislation to control pollution and execution of rights and entitlements of the people of the area. (manasbbsr15@gmail.com)

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