How to bring back the excavated land to original land-use in the mined-out area
By Rahul Sharma
The mining sector is witnessing a green revolution in India. Hundreds of acres of spent mines are being restored into fertile fields. With the potential of these mines tapped, lands are being scientifically refilled for local communities to generate food and fodder. This is the modern face of mining that involves maximum economic development with minimum environmental impact.
Aluminium, the second-most used metal in the world, has a vital role to play in India’s economic growth. It’s used in energy security, national defence, infrastructure, electrification, aerospace, automobile, consumer durables and packaging, and is a key element for the government’s initiatives like Make in India, Smart Cities, Power for All, indigenous space programme.
The aluminium industry also has the potential to yield huge economic dividend and help generate millions of jobs. Termed as a ‘green metal’ for its eco-friendliness (it can be completely recycled), aluminium is already a significant contributor to India’s GDP, and yet there is a potential for growth as India’s aluminium consumption is hardly one-fifth of global average.
The Indian aluminium industry has generated over 8 lakh jobs directly and indirectly, and helped developed over 4,000 SMEs in the downstream sector over the last few decades. It also has a strong output and employment multiplier effect (backward and forward linkages) on other key sectors.
Most aluminium smelters in India are located in underdeveloped areas where they have generated peripheral employment, have aided in the development of the region and improved the per capita income of the area. These areas within the ‘aluminium ecosystem’ are entirely dependent, socio-economically, on the aluminium industry.
Bauxite is the primary ore used in the production of alumina, which, in turn, is the raw material in the aluminium manufacturing process. India, with a reserve base of over 2.2 billion tonnes, is home to the sixth-largest bauxite deposits in the world, with the mineral-rich state of Odisha having some of the world’s best and largest reserves. Indian bauxite is largely located on a single plateau, thus making bulk open-cast mining possible, resulting in opportunities to implement technology-driven scientific mining techniques. Also, close proximity between bauxite mines and alumina refineries affords Indian manufacturers the opportunity to manufacture high-quality aluminium at globally-competitive costs.
Sustainability initiatives are in place to bring back the excavated land to original land-use in the mined-out area for rehabilitation and livelihood. After the mined-out area is reclaimed by backfilling of the top layer soil, the surface is brought back to the original ground level. Today, mining commitment includes extensive re-greening of the mined land and participation in the socio-economic development of communities around.
The mining and metals sector has historically been at the receiving end of protest campaigns that have derailed projects or even shut existing operations. But there is empirical evidence of how mining has transformed the fortunes of states and countries. In fact, the surface-mining operations for bauxite are among the most eco-friendly and sustainable, involving extraction of bauxite ore from the surface and upper layer of the mine, without digging deep trenches or underground blasting.
A pragmatic approach would be to put a scientific plan to tap the country’s bauxite mining potential, putting adequate riders and safeguards in place to protect the interests of all the stakeholders driven by sustainability and socio-economic growth. While the mining industry has evolved from its earlier unsustainable practices, it is time the stakeholders and naysayers come together and agree on acceptable globally-established practices. As a growing nation, we need to balance the interests of the nation with the local communities using a fact-based approach that leads to growth at all levels in a sustainable way.
The author is CEO, Alumina, Vedanta Ltd