Committee recommends closure of mines

ON OCTOBER 11, 1991, the Supreme Court appointed a five-member committee, headed by retired Rajasthan high court judge M L Jain, to determine the boundaries of the areas in Sariska Tiger Reserve (STR) notified under various acts as protected forests and Tiger Project Reserve. The committee also was required to assess the environmental impact of mining and recommend remedial measures for land restoration.

The committee verified the demarcation of the protected forest areas by matching forest department maps with those of the revenue department. It found the protected forest area, as delineated in the forest department's map, almost matching the area covered by the notifications of January 1975 and 1986. Wherever there was a discrepancy between the maps and the notifications, the committee upheld the forest department's boundaries. The committee then identified 215 mines that were completely within the protected area and 47 mines that were partly within and recommended their immediate closure.

In a dissenting note, a committee member with a keen interest in environmental issues, suggested the preparation of a detailed environmental impact assessment of mining on the reserve, pointing out that the environmental impact of a mine could not be determined by simply noting on which side of the fence it is located. He criticised the committee for its inordinately lengthy deliberations on the demarcation issue and its lack of attention to the legality of the mines.

Three other committee members -- the collector of Alwar district, the state's chief conservator of forests who is also its chief wildlife warden and the additional director of mines and geology -- recommended the Centre should accept the state government's offer of transferring land, with provision for its afforestation, in lieu of the area occupied by mines. They said this would balance the interests of the mine-owners, the mine-workers and the Sariska reserve.

In its assessment of environmental impact, the committee declared open cast mining was causing land degradation, polluting ground and surface water, polluting the atmosphere and causing pulmonary and other health problems among the mine-workers, disturbing the animals in the sanctuary, reducing agricultural productivity and degrading pasture lands.