By Vishnu Padmanabhan
A new study used satellite images to reveal that small mines are associated with more deforestation
New Delhi: Across the world, and especially in India, mining is a controversial industry. Mines damage environment and displace people. To quell these costs, the centre has established an environmental clearance process where mining projects require approval.
In 2006, to strengthen this process and make rules stricter, the government introduced several reforms. However, even as stringency increased, small mines less than 5 hectares were exempt from certain regulations. This could have had unintended effects on the environment, says a new study. In the study, Anca Balietti of the Harvard Kennedy School and others examine mining activity in India between 2000-2013 using data from the Indian Bureau of Mines, clearance application data from the environment ministry and satellite data. They find that after the 2006 reforms, average mine sizes fell.
To come under less regulation, larger mines split their leases into smaller mines and there was a significant concentration of mines sized just below 5 hectares. This hurt the environment. The authors use satellite images to reveal that small mines are associated with more deforestation. This is because smaller mines are not subject to regulation that mandates tree planting to compensate for deforestation. They also cannot afford expensive eco-friendly production technology, which further harms the environment. However, the authors do highlight one benefit from the 2006 reforms: Environmental clearances now take less time.