Mining MoUs and concerns in Manipur

The plan of extracting mineral resources of Manipur by the government in collaboration with the corporate or companies is bereft of necessary appraisal of impacts and lacks free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples. Moreover, development through chromite, limestone and other mining in the state is not an answer to uplift Manipur’s economy.

The intense pursuance of extractive industries becomes an obvious reality after several mining companies began involving in survey work and exploration processes in Manipur in recent decades, facilitated by India’s Act East Policy and relaxation of investment and environmental norms governing mining. Various mining companies involved in mining surveys and operation plans to extract various minerals in Manipur, primarily Chromite and Limestone in Eastern section of the state in Ukhrul, Kamjong, Tengnoupal and Chandel districts that borders Myanmar. The Geological Survey of India (GSI) and the Department of Industries and Commerce (DIC), Government of Manipur intensified their survey works in search for minerals in Manipur. The state government also developed the Industrial and Investment Policy of Manipur, 2013 to facilitate extractive industries in the state re-notified in 2017. Some objectives of the policy includes to create infrastructure facilities, provide incentives as well as marketing support to industries, to enhance the availability of raw materials, to facilitate optimal utilization of the state’s natural and human resources, to attract investment, etc. The Manipur Minor Mineral Policy was also framed in 2018.    

Minerals of Manipur: The GSI, Ministry of Mines and Minerals, Government of India conducted systematic geological mapping of Manipur and detected numbers of minerals such as limestone, chromite, nickel, copper, malachite, azurite and magnetite and various platinum group of elements (PGE). The GSI estimates around 20 million metric tonnes of limestone deposits in Hundung, Phungyar and Mailiang villages in Ukhrul district and at Toupokpi, Chakpikarong, Pallel, Nungphura, Nungpal, Sajik Tampak, Haikot in Tengnoupal and Chandel Districts. The Indian Bureau of Mines 2013 report indicated that Manipur has 6.66 MT of chromite resources of ophiolite belt in Manipur, breaking up to 5.5 MT in Ukhrul and Kamjong Districts and 1.1 MT in Tengnoupal and Chandel districts. Chromite reserves is in Phangrei, Lunghar, Singcha–Gamnon area of Ukhrul District and in Kwatha, Sibong, Khudengthabi and Minou-Mangkang, etc in Tengnoupal and Chandel areas.

Mining MoUs: The Indian Bureau of Mines and the Ministry of Mines granted mining leases to private companies during 2007-2012 in the ophiolite belt of Ukhrul and Chandel districts of Manipur. The provisions of the MoU signed between the Government of Manipur (GOM) and the companies include transfer of huge amount of land and mining rights in favour of the companies. Several memorandum of understanding (MoUs) for mining were among the Thirty-Nine (39) MoUs signed during the North East Business Summit held at Imphal from 21st till 22nd November 2017. The mining survey works, and extraction efforts intensified since then. Eight blocks of limestone over an area of 34.37 sq km and 10 blocks of chromite over an area of 38.96 sq km have been notified for reservation for exploration and mining with nine private companies signing MoUs on 22 November 2017 with GOM. The GOM signed Seven MoUs for chromite exploration and mining with M/s Sarvesh Refractories Pvt. Ltd, Rourkela, M/s Rourkela Minerals Pvt. Ltd, Rourkela, M/s Kotak Resources, Mumbai, M/s Gulf Natural Resources, Gurgaon, M/s Visa Steel  Ltd, Odisha, M/s Manipur Mines and Minerals Pvt. Ltd., M/s Balassore Alloys Ltd, Odisha etc in 2017. In the same period, the GOM signed four MoUs for limestone exploration and mining and to establish cement plant with M/s Super Ores, Guwahati, M/s Gulf Natural Resources, Gurgaon, and M/s Ramung Enterprises, Imphal.

Earlier, the companies awarded contract for mining in Manipur till 2012. They include the Anand Exports Ltd, Odhisa for operation in Chingai and Halang, the Visa Steel Ltd, Odhisa in Kalhang Khunou and Shingcha, the Balasore Alloys Ltd, Odhisa in Maku Chingjao Ningthi, the Anand Exports, Ltd. Odhisa in Nambisha, mostly in Ukhrul and Kamjong districts. Later, other companies like the Gulf Natural Resources Pvt Ltd Rourkela Minerals Pvt. Ltd, Sarvesh Refractories Pvt. Ltd etc were also conferred contract for mining of Chromium in Manipur.

The Directorate of Trade, Commerce and Industries (DTCI) of the GOM submitted draft Cabinet Memo for giving an area of 47 acre belonging to the erstwhile Hundung Cement Factory, on lease to M/s. Ramung Enterprises, Imphal for setting up of a 400 Tonnes Per Day (TPD) Cement Plant on 18 November 2018. A cabinet decision was taken on 18 February 2019 to set up of two cement plants in Manipur of 500 TPD and 400 TPD respectively under Public Private Partnership and Ramung Enterprises, Imphal and Sukhdev Mining & Industries Private Limited, Madhya Pradesh applied for the operation of the cement plant.

Prospecting license of chromite over an area of 8.75 sq km at Lunghar, Sihai Khullen, Nungbi, Ukhrul District has been renewed for two years from 6 April 2018 in favor of Facor Alloys Ltd of Andhra Pradesh by the DTCI, Manipur on 8 March 2018. The company further applied for grant of mining lease for chromite at Lunghar on 14 December 2018. The application has been recommended by DTCI to the Ministry of Mines of India after scrutiny by the State Level Committee, GOM as required under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulations) Act, 1957. Further, the DTCI, Manipur signed mining agreement with M/s. Sarvesh Refractory Pvt. Ltd for mining at Lunghar village and with M/s. Rourkela Mineral Company Pvt. Ltd at Shingcha-Gamnom on 23 February 2019 to commence chromite mining operations. The DTCI, Manipur has taken up one mineral investigation project titled “Exploration of limestone deposits in Shingda and Singkap Blocks of Kamjong District during 2018-19 Field Season. The Geology & Mining division of DTCI took up exploration of Limestone Deposits from Leingangching to Chakpikarong in Chandel District in 2015. The MoUs contracted with companies by Government lacks free, prior, and informed consent of villagers.  

Kwatha: The Gulf Natural Resources Pvt Ltd (GNRPL) based in Gurgaon signed a deed of agreement for mining of chromite with the Village Authority of Kwatha Village on October 5, 2016, under which the village was  conditioned to hand over the surface right of the chromite bearing Ophiolite belt from Namchumpha Lok in the South to Sadangching in the North lying in the East and West of about 15 sq. km of land under Kwatha village to the private company, GNRPL.

Singcha Gamnon: The Rourkela Minerals Company Pvt Ltd (ROMCO) has signed an agreement with the Government of Manipur on February 23, 2019 for a mining lease for Twenty (20) years over an area of 85.0 hectares in Shingcha- Gamnom village in Ukhrul district. ROMCO submitted Form 1, Draft TOR and PFR for approval of Term of Reference for mining on 3 December 2016 with the GoM and with the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). The DTCI, Manipur granted the mining lease in August 2018. The project cost is around Rs 50 crore.  

Lunghar Area: The mining company, Sarvesh Refractory Pvt Ltd has been contracted by GOM to mine Chromite from Lunghar and Sirohi Villages of Ukhrul District. The mining lease area is 132.781 hectares in Shirohi-Lunghar Village with targeted production capacity of 10531 tons per annum and is under process to seek environment clearance from the MOEFCC for mining.

Hundung Plans: The GOM has leased out the limestone quarry to one Guwahati-based M/S Super Ores and Mines Private Limited for a period of 20 years. The firm targets to extract not less than 500 tons of limestone from the quarry in a day. The Satyam Group of Industries has proposed to the State Government for setting up a cement factory at the site of erstwhile Hundung Cement Factory. The DTCI of GOM conceded an area of 47 acre belonging to Hundung Cement Factory for lease to Ramung Enterprises, Imphal to set up a 400 TPD Cement Plant on 18 November 2018.

Mailiang Plan: Mailiang Village, inhabited by the Tangkhul tribe, was targeted for limestone mining and for establishment of a factory at Mailiang village in Kamjong district, Manipur. The Satyam Company and the Government of Manipur conducted testing and survey work for limestone deposit with fresh plans to establish mining in the village. The survey works intensified from 2012 onwards. The DIC, Manipur already established a store, a workers’ camp with basic machineries to commence mining in an area. Land area is approximately 50 Sq. Kms. The villagers do not have basic information on the mining activity such as Detailed Project Report, Environment Impact Assessments etc.

Issues of Concerns

PFR and Misinformation: The pre-feasibility study report (PFR) prepared by the mining company stated that the mining lease area at Lunghar is devoid of any forest land or agricultural land and the entire land is categorized as unclassed Government land despite the fact that Sirohi and Lunghar villages are one of the most forested area of Manipur along with Shingcha – Gamnon. The project authority stated that the peak is part of Shirui – Kashong range which is 2570 m in height and has a habitat of rare and endangered species of lily called “Siroy Lily”, at around 4.5 km from the lease area.

The PFR also stated that there is no ecologically sensitive habitat like National Park, Wildlife Sanctuary within 10km radius of the ML area, stating that the area is in unclassed State land. The EIA prepared by the ERM India Private Limited for RAMCO for mining at Singcha-Gamnon also falsely stated that the ML area is devoid of any forest land or agricultural land. The community land is survival sources for the indigenous communities. The EIA and the application for necessary clearance by companies falsely indicated there are no village nearby except for few hamlets of houses. In Manipur, the forest land is part of the community land used for livelihood activities.

Undermining Article 371 ©:  The PFR prepared by RAMCO in Singcha - Gamnon failed to mention the settlement and livelihood dependence of indigenous communities in the mining lease area. Further, the area is inhabited by the Tangkhul and the Kuki tribes, both recognized as tribals by the Government and hence needing special consideration of impacts of mining and other unsustainable projects. Question arises if the mining plan in Manipur takes consent of Hill Area Committee (HAC) under Article 371 © of Indian Constitution, as land transfer for any mining purposes need to go through the process of taking consent of HACs, which has been sidelined in land grabbing cases in hill areas.

Environment Impacts: The mining plan in Manipur are marred with absence of environment and forest clearances by companies. The project for mining at Singcha was approved without receiving Environment and Forest clearance for the project. RAMCO and the outrightly stated that there is no forest area in Singcha Gamnon in its pre-feasibility study for Chromite mining plan. Extensive mining operations in the entire area of Kwatha, Singcha – Gamnon, Mailiang, Hundung, Phangrei, Lunghar etc will seriously affect the livelihood of the villagers while mining companies benefits. Manipur in indeed identified as the zone of confluence of three major species streams namely the Malayo-Polynesian species, the Tibeto-Chinese species, and the Indian sub-continent species.

Health Impacts: The Impact of Chromite mining, more so of the health impacts of Chromium has not been mentioned. The previous Chromium mining plan at Phangrei in Ukhrul District was abandoned after local protest the mining plan due to the health, social and environmental impacts of the project. Assessing the impacts of Chromium mining in India would be helpful to assess impacts in ManipurIn Sukinda, Orissa, with the largest chromite mining operations in India, the chromite ore and waste rocks are dumped in the open without considering its impact on the environment.  Leaching of heavy metals takes place in the rainy season polluting the ground and surface water. In 2007, the US-based Blacksmith Institute listed Sukinda Valley of Odhisa as one of the 10 most polluted places in the world. The Chromite mines in Sukinda valley generate significant quantity of pollutants containing toxic hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing element. Mining companies involved in contamination in Sukinda like Balasore Alloys Ltd., signed MoU for chromite mining in Manipur.   

Limitation of India’s Laws on mining: In India, the fast deregulation of policies on land, forest rights, environment clearances and on mining, privatization of mining sector etc clearly explain the neoliberal move of the Government of India in extractive industries. The Mining and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2015, passed by Indian parliament on 29 November 2015 accorded more thrust to the Government of India on mining of major minerals and privileges to mining companies, such as automatic extension of the mining lease to 50 years from 30 years. The 2015 amendment Bill has no such provision for community consultation. The draft Environment Impact Assessment, 2020 will exempt mining activities from environment Impact Assessments before mining. The Mining Notification 2020 will incentivize the mining companies disregarding traditional laws, constitutional safeguards for tribals and in violation of existing environmental safeguards.

Undermining Sustainable Development Goals: The pursuance of mining that entail destruction of peoples land and forest areas and water bodies will not only undermine sustainable development by impoverishing communities, but also cause climate change due to the destruction of forest areas, which is proven to be major cause of emission of greenhouse gases, that worsened climate change.

Conclusions: Development through chromite, limestone and other mining in Manipur is not an answer to uplift Manipur’s economy. The adverse realities mining operations in India and across the globe need be assessed before pursuing mining operations in Manipur. Mineral rich states like, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are afflicted by poverty, as the revenue generated from mining is not utilized for the welfare of the local people. Manipur need to learn from the experiences where mining operations by mining companies like Vedanta only lead to consolidation of wealth among the rich at the cost of people. These states are impoverished, and conflict ridden, especially as mining companies resorted to protection of their interest and committing rights violations to affected communities.

Mining companies usually failed to uphold the rights of communities and failed to adequately compensate or rehabilitate the affected communities. The plunder of land and natural resources in Manipur through mining will only led to weakening of Manipur’s economy. The limited loyalty from mining will hardly reach the people but will further consolidate the wealth of the powerful elites. Such royalties will be disproportionate to the loss of land and resources for Manipur. Mining companies and their financiers’ thirst for insatiable profits led to land grabbing, deplete resources, exploit cheap labor, deepening poverty, and inequality among indigenous peoples.  The mining operation will intensify the multifaceted conflict and human rights situation in Manipur.

Corporate bodies are known for concealing their profit to evade tax and contribution to local economies, such as Tullow oils in Zambia. Tullow Oil earlier planned to drill oil from Manipur. The people of Manipur are proud of being the owner of rich reserves of mineral resources. The land and resources belong to indigenous community people. Indigenous peoples’ self-determined rights to sustainably manage their land and natural resources should be recognized.

The plan of extracting mineral resources of Manipur by the government in collaboration with the corporate or companies is bereft of necessary appraisal of impacts and lacks free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples. All plan to target indigenous peoples land and resources through mining, oil exploration or dam building need be thoroughly assessed for its wider and long-term implications with rightful community involvement. The government should desist all mining plans before such processes are followed in accordance with the rights and development wishes of the indigenous peoples of Manipur.

The views expressed are the writer's own

First Published: July 14, 2020, 2:15 p.m.