Mining & indigenous rights concerns in Manipur

Jiten Yumnam *

The North East Business Summit concluded recently from 21st till 22nd November 2017 in Imphal is unique for Manipur given the scope and enormity of investments announced during the summit. At least Thirty Nine (39) MoUs were signed with various companies and States of South East Asian and European countries. The Manipur government referring to the MoUs, announced business investment worth Rs 5,000 crore from the two-day summit, including an oil pipeline from Numaligarh to Imphal via Nagaland, setting up private universities, establishment of private hospitals, to commence chromium and limestone mining in Manipur etc.

The details of the MOUs are still concealed from the people of Manipur. Earlier, the Government of India and Government of Manipur signed MoUs for road building with loan from the Asian Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The practicalities of the intent and objectives of Indiaís Act East Policy seem fully revealed through these MoUs. The ultimate concern is whether these MoUs, especially the ones focusing on extractive industries, like mining and oil exploration will ever advance Manipurís economy and polity to newer heights, or simply facilitate its ruin and political complexity.

Manipur is endowed with rich minerals deposits. The Geological Survey of India, Ministry of Mines carried out Systematic Geological Mapping up to 58% of the total geographical area of Manipur and detected numbers of minerals in Ukhrul, Chandel and Tengnoupal areas. On the survey, minerals like Limestone, Chromite, Nickle, Copper, Malachite, Azurite and various platinum group element were detected.

The combined limestone of Ukhrul, Tengnoupal and Chandel reached a proved reserve of 9.845 million tonnes, probable reserve of 3.441 million tones and possible reserve of 18.412 million tonnes. Chromite reserves of Chandel and Tengnoupal has been found at Kwatha, Sibong, Khudengthabi and Minou-Mangkang, along with 20 different reserves in Ukhrul.

The Government of Manipur developed the Industrial and Investment Policy of Manipur, 2013 and the Manipur Mineral Policy, 2010 to facilitate mining operations in Manipur. Following this policy, Super Ores Factory, a partner of the Satyam Group of Industries based in Assam was given permission by the State Government to re-establish the Hundung Cement Factory.

Subsequent upon the Union Governmentís consent to exploit chromite found in Ukhrul and Chandel districts, the State Government has started issuing prospective licenses. The State Government has also signed an undertaking with Orissa based private company Orient for mining chromite in Manipur.

In Manipur, Mining is not a new phenomenon and indeed, limestone mining and cement factory has long been operational at Hundung since 1989 with a plant capacity of 15,000 tpy till the facility was closed down due to land conflict, health, social and environment impacts due to the factory. The Chromite mining efforts in Ukhrul district was marred with community objections.

Mining is recognized as one of the most controversial economic activities globally. Over the last decade, more than 560 million acres of land in Africa, Latin America and South East Asia previously dedicated to food production are now being used for mineral extraction and biofuel production. In Orissa, Britain based mining giant, Vedanta and also the South Korean owned POSCOís USD $12 billion coal mine project in Odisha were compelled to halt operation by affected communities.

Mining will entail extensive forest destruction and with a weak regulatory mechanism coupled with controversial forest clearance processes in Manipur, mining will unleash irreparable damages. The disregard of forest laws is evident in the railway works in Tamenglong District by Northern Frontier Railways and also in Mapithel dam, the latter being a subject of dispute in the National Green Tribunal.

Another impact is on accessibility of safe and clean drinking water as most of the River and other water system will be polluted with contaminated discharges from Chromium and Limestone mining. Nearby, pollution of rivers due to limestone and coal mining has long been a concern in Meghalaya. In Papua New Guinea, BHP Billitonís open pit Ok Tedi Mine caused pollution of the Ok Tedy and Fly Rivers.

Indigenous peoples landscape will be modified and polluted through open pit mining, road construction and dumping of mining waste. Indigenous peoples will lose access to their traditional livelihood sources. Mining will undermine indigenous peoplesí cultures and generate much vulnerability on women.

Chromium mining is associated with emission of radioactive substance and hence the health impact will be enormous for local communities. Villagers of Hundung village confirm how the Cement production in Hundung Cement factory caused wide health impacts. The obligation of the State to protect corporate bodies to sustain Indiaís Act East policy will lead to worsening militarization of Manipur, which would be an additional pressure to land and resources in Manipur. In West Papua, Indonesia, mining giants like Rio Tinto and Freeport McMoran relied on military to subdue the indigenous peoplesí resistance of plunder and expropriation of their land and resources.

The privatization of development process will be intensified through mining. Mining also fueled much conflict in indigenous territories. Indeed, in all indigenous territories, mining has been introduced as gift of development, but in reality, either it turned their land as battle fields or as contaminated land bereft of life and real development.

Mindanao region of the Philippines is an example of how mining led to militarization and human rights violations, even by the private guards of mining companies like Anglo-American, Red 5 of Australia, Rio Tinto etc. Mining TNCs even sued Governments for loss of profits and for introducing any policy measures to regulate their functioning. In 2009, the Pacific Rim sued the El Salvador Government in the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a corporate tribunal of the World Bank for a demand of 301 Million US Dollar.

In India, there is increased insistence on application of neoliberal policies to the mining industry. The fast deregulation of policies on land, forest rights, and environment clearances and also on mining and also the formulation of new policies like Public Private Partnerships for increased privatization clearly explained the neoliberal move of the Government of India in mining.

The principal Act governing the mining of minerals in India, the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act dating back to 1957, has also been amended several times towards privatizing the mining sector, including in 2010, for the direct entry of foreign companies. The 1957 Act (24 A (2)) describes indigenous peoples as ďoccupiers of the surface of the landĒ and extinguished in one sentence the cultural, social, spiritual, economic and traditional rights of indigenous communities over their land and forest areas.

Further, the Mining and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2015 has been passed by both houses of parliament on 29 November 2015. The 2015 amendment accorded more emphasis on the rights of Central Government on major minerals and also on the rights and role of private mining companies and conferment of more legal impunity. The 2015 amendment Bill has no such provision for consultation with communities.

The challenge of mining in Manipur, apart from non-recognition of community rights over land and resources, is the absence of a Rehabilitation and resettlement policy for Manipur that should guide any rehabilitation process. The Right to Fair Compensation and Rehabilitation Bill of 2013 (LARR) also excludes Mining Act of India and its amendments from its purview of land acquisition and fair compensation processes.

Further, Manipur does not have any policy to regulate extractive industries or for that matter to regulate corporate bodies, especially Multinational Companies to ensure their accountability and adherence to traditional customary norms and other human rights standards.

Realities of large scale mining in Asia, Africa and Latin America indicated that large scale mining projects of multinational corporations violate Mother Nature, plundered peoplesí natural resources and cause untold human sufferings. Large scale mining companies and their financiersí thirst for insatiable profits led to more land grabbing, foster poverty, inequality, conflict and human rights violations.

The French mining giant, Lafarge is involved in arbitrary alienation of Khasi peoplesí forest land in Meghalaya with their limestone mining operation and the case was even taken to the Supreme Court of India6. The resistance of Indigenous peoples of Meghalaya to UCILís plan to mine uranium from Meghalaya on environment and social impact concerns will be a good lesson for Manipur.

In Africa, mining companies including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Barrick Gold etc operates extracting gold, diamond, copper, iron ore and even uranium for long. However, Africa continues to remain one of the most impoverished continents, with the highest rate of malnutrition, poverty and conflict. As resources are taken out to developed and high income developing countries, Africa remains undeveloped. Rich countries simply get richer while Africa languishes in extreme poverty and conflict.

Manipur and other North East region now becomes a new playground for corporations from rich developed countries, like France, Korea, Holland, and other Indian companies to expropriate its land and resources to consolidate their profits, economic and political powers. The colonization of Asia, African and Latin American Countries by the Western powers is intended to gain control of their natural resources. It seems Manipur is now descending into an era of modern colonization era, amidst a reality where development alternatives and sustainable development defines development processes globally.

The extensive damage of forest areas by project proponents and the corporate bodies involved in building dams, oil exploration and Trans Asian Railways without recognizing and considering communities livelihood dependence of forest and without taking their consent is a major concern in Manipur. The unaccountability of corporate bodies is exemplified by the multiple private companies involved in destroying forest for railway works in Tamenglong.

Further, the proposed plans to set up cement factories in Ukhrul District without conducting any environment and social impact assessment will simply be a disaster which will lead to multiple levels of conflict. The persisting concerns with limitations of policies governing mining operations and social, environmental and human rights impacts need be carefully considered before mining in Manipur. Devising strategies to best manage Manipurís resources with its peoples based on their wishes and aspiration and alternatives would be crucial as well.

The application of mining act and its amendments will lead and complicate persisting conflict in Manipur, especially in areas identified for Limestone and Chromite mining. Recognizing indigenous peoplesí rights over their land and resources and their self-determined development as outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007 would be a key step for sustainable development in Manipur.

Plunder of land and resources by corporate bodies will never contribute in uplifting Manipurís economy. Pursuance of any forms of extractive industries, especially mining and oil exploration, will be a recipe for disaster, multilayered conflict and unending crisis in Manipur.

* Jiten Yumnam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on December 19 , 2017.

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