Mining - An increasing threat to our rivers - Article by Nitya Jacob

Content Courtesy: Solution Exchange and Nitya Jacob
Author: Nitya Jacob

India’s arteries are choking. Her rivers, the lifeline of hundreds of millions, are over-taxed, polluted and encroached. They are being mined, dammed and emptied of water. Save for the four monsoon months, most rivers are streams of drains, depending on how many cities they pass through. This year people gaped in awe at the River Yamuna (I am sure they were over-awed by other rivers elsewhere too) as for the first time since 1978 looked like a river and not a drain.

Mining constitutes a major, and largely unrecognized, threat to our rivers. The others are high profile and get a lot of press but mining passes mostly unnoticed. Miners extract thousands of truckloads of sand and stones from river beds across the country to feed the ever-hungry construction industry. Some of the mining is legal but most is not. Rivers also receive the waste water from mines; the Damodar river flows black with the effluent from the coal washeries along its course and the Mandovi and Zuari rivers (Goa) are similarly poisoned by iron ore mines.

Mining rejects comprise clay that hinder plant growth and have a high concentration of iron, manganese and alumina. Over time, they increase acidity in soil and reduction of fertility. This is at the receiving end, and the story of only two rivers but they are illustrative. The Damodar has the misfortune of passing through one of the world’s richest mineral belt. The others rise in hills that have some of India’s best iron ore.

Consider what quarrying has done to the Arkavati river just outside India’s cyber city, Bangalore. This used to be a perennial river and supplied water to Bangalore; a 45 minute drive out of the city brings you to the old British-era water works that was supplied via aqueducts from the river. Now, the pumps stand silent in the giant pump-house and the aqueducts are broken in many place. The river is dry, caused in large part by granite quarries in its upper catchments and sand mining. Because of this, water does not reach the river any more but accumulates in mining hollows. The monumental dam built to divert river water to the volute siphons, and from there to the water works, holds no water.

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