Farmers in Bhavnagar in southern Gujarat have long opposed limestone mining in the district. Gujarat’s limestone mining has been able to flourish due to unthinking changes in mining regulation, ambiguities in the government’s environmental policy, and lack of action against violators.
Gujarat’s limestone mining has been gradually encroaching into agricultural land held by small farmers in the Talaja and Mahuva blocks of the district of Bhavnagar in the Indian state of Gujarat.
A check dam, being built to convert the area into a wetland and benefit the agrarian community, has been stalled. It is believed that this could cause other mining projects to be stalled due to environmental reasons.
Indian Rayon and Industries, a cement major in India, was granted a license in 1999 by the state administration for mining over 851.32 hectares covering 6 villages in Talaja block.
A further 883.8 hectares were cleared a couple of years later in favor of the same company. But revised central mining rules shrank the 30-year license to the company, initially valid till 2029. A valid environmental authorization became necessary to get a mining license.
Gujarat’s Limestone Mining Pushed Through Without Consent
Demand by the affected villagers to stop any activity by the company in the area was not heeded by the state administration. Gujarat’s limestone mining continued with the collusion of the state Pollution Control Board. An initial clearance for the first mine was challenged by the villagers before the Expert Appraisal Committee on the ground that sufficient hearing was not held before granting the clearance.
The environmental appraisal for the other two projects was stalled as the January 2017 deadline passed. But an inter-ministerial meeting pushed through the disputed mining grant despite a lack of environmental clearance. the Aditya Birla Group-owned cement company, Indian Rayon, and Industries, now known as UltraTech Cement was granted a lease to 3 limestone projects, of the total 11 granted.
Only one of their 3 projects had a clearance from the environmental ministry. The ministry of mining did not respond to queries for the haste in which the clearance was given.
Strong opposition by farmers has stalled mining regularly at the leased sites. It even led to mass protests and arrests by the police. Villagers filed a petition alleging custodial torture of the arrested farmers. The court transferred the case to the Criminal Investigation Department as evidence of police torture emerged.
On the direction of the court, an expert committee that included Kapil Shah, agricultural scientist, GV Ramajaneyulu, from the Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and Arunbhai Dave, from the non-profit Lokbharati Community Science Centre was appointed to study the impact that limestone mining had on agriculture in the two affected blocks.
Farmers alleged that the company covered up its misdeeds before the committee. Objection by the cement company is believed to have led to a halt of the committee proceedings into the matter.
Locals say that 98% of the land allotted for Gujarat’s limestone mining is agricultural land. The construction of the check dam has led to almost doubling in the agricultural output in the region, the villagers say. They now produce three crops in a year.
The negative effect of Gujarat’s limestone mining has been felt in the area. The land that was nurtured with the construction of the check dam has been losing its fertility. Onion and millet crops were affected said a farmer who owns agricultural land a mere 200 meters from the mines.
A second wetland has been planned over an area of 1,700 hectares over the Baghdad river in Methala block. Though Gujarat’s limestone mining operation has been stalled, for now, it remains to be seen how the inspection by the pollution control board of the state turns out.