Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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Building trust and respect for local communities is key to sustainable mining

By DB Sundara Ramam

Mining and Agriculture are two of the earliest endeavours of the humankind invented to sustain and survive. The two industries ranked together were the primary or basic industries of early civilization.

Today, mining is one of the key sectors that provides jobs and contributes towards building nations globally. Unlike other industries that are able to choose where to operate from, mining is only possible in areas and regions of high mineral deposits, which may already be occupied by residing communities. Geographical topography and the natural wealth of the particular location plays an important role in its development, and mining is one such key industry which can be leveraged by a certain state or community for significantly long period of time.

There are few states in India that are blessed with such natural wealth. India is home to 1,531 operating mines and produces 95 minerals. Mining is one of the largest sectors in India and it is carried out in multiple locations that includes Jharkhand, which is also the coal capital of India. Coal is an essential ingredient in the production of high quality steel also, an essential commodity that has a vital role in empowering an economy with robust infrastructure and development. Mining and quarrying industry contributes a significant portion of the state’s GDP. Jharkhand receives 96% of its mining revenue from the major minerals, out of which 92% is from coal. Another state that has benefitted immensely from mining of metals like Iron ore, Manganese and Chromite is the state of Odisha. The state alone has 32.9 per cent iron ore of the country’s reserves, followed with chromite 98.4 per cent, coal 24.8 per cent and manganese 67.6 per cent.

Apart from the various other sectors that depend on mining like the steel, aluminium, copper etc., the communities who are most impacted are the ones who live in mining locations and eventually also work in these mines. It is the very nature of the entire process of mining which has the ability to impact them in both positive and negative ways. It has the potential of creating a social and economic development, transforming people’s lives for the better. Responsible mining companies recognise that they need to proactively engage with communities to build strong relationships based on trust and respect which help in building long-term mutually beneficial relationships.

Companies have to invest in research and development for the sustainable growth of the entire mining process to create a positive impact not only on the communities residing there but also on the environment and biodiversity. This has been the central objective that has enabled Tata Steel to bring about a noticeable change and develop the communities in Jharkhand where the Company celebrated 100 years of sustainable coal mining last year in Jharia Division and have successfully managed to create a sustainable environment for the communities and help mitigate the impact of mining on the environment.

In the recent years, rainwater harvesting has emerged as one of the most sustainable ways to conserve rainwater that otherwise gets wasted by getting drained off. The installation of rainwater harvesting structure has helped the local communities in channelising precious rainwater to percolate down and replenish underground water table. Tata Steel inaugurated the state-of-the-art Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) Project Phase-II at Joda, Odisha in 2018 which is now the source of water for hundreds of farmers in that area. Tata Steel’s 3 MW Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Power Plant in Noamundi, the 1st Solar Power Plant in any iron ore mine in the country, is an inspiring example of leveraging renewable energy sources in the mining ecosystem.

While maintaining an emphasis on production and productivity at its mining locations, Tata Steel has adopted a strategic approach towards mine safety, digital mining leveraging industry 4.0 technologies, management of natural and shared resources – especially water, air and land – diversity & inclusion in the workforce, and social and environmental sustainability through inclusive growth and biodiversity management, in line with the Company’s business objectives. All Tata Steel mines and collieries have developed Biodiversity Management Plans and Knowledge Centres have been established across the Raw Materials Division to enhance employee skills and productivity.

Tata Steel`s strategies and funds are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. The company has been making significant social investments as part of its commitment to inclusive growth and community development. A large part of the expenditure and efforts are assigned towards creation of social infrastructure including infrastructure for agricultural development for sustainable livelihoods, in the form of check dams, ponds, irrigation canals, new water tanks, etc.

Community development is the process of increasing the strength and effectiveness of communities, their quality of life and their effective role in the decision-making process that will have greater long-term control over their lives. It goes beyond justifying social impacts and focuses on strengthening community viability.

Often, the most sustainable and beneficial legacies of community development programs are those that support the upskilling or capability building of local people through training, employment and education; and drive benefits that convert mining assets, namely non-renewable natural resource capital, into other local assets, namely sustainable social, economic and environmental capital.

This entire process is a journey not a destination for both the mining companies and the communities which reside in and around mining locations. There will always be room for improvement but community relations is a process that requires constant attention and resource investment along with a long term vision which fundamentally needs commitment.

(Author is Vice President, Raw Materials, Tata Steel).

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