ublic outcry greets uranium mining project in AP
“there is radiation everywhere on earth. Mining in Nalgonda will not increase it.” This comment of S D Prasad, adviser to public sector undertaking Uranium Corporation of India Limited (ucil), typifies the Indian authorities’ insouciant disregard for the impact of uranium mining on human health and the environment. It was with this mindset that officials approached the August 19 public hearings on ucil’s proposed extraction of the radioactive metal from Andhra Pradesh’s (ap) Nalgonda district. Predictably, the local people’s apprehensions were left unaddressed.
The Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board had originally planned to organise a single hearing at Peddagattu village, which is located on a remote hillock in Nalgonda. Seemingly, ucil and state government officials wanted to keep attendance to the bare minimum so that they did not have to field uncomfortable questions. But the board was forced to hurriedly arrange another hearing on the same day in the relatively accessible Pedda Adiserapally, (the block development headquarters) after the ap High Court intervened in the matter.
Strong protests marked the meeting at Peddagattu, where the officials failed to come up with satisfactory answers to people’s queries on health hazards posed by the mining activity. In fact, members of the public and civil society groups alleged that ucil tried to furnish misleading facts and figures. The second hearing saw the presence of a large police force. Not only was the people’s movement monitored strictly, they were said to have been stifled. J Rama Rao of Forum for a Better Hyderabad, a non-governmental organisation, asserts: “The entire affair was preconceived and they (the officials) decided not to listen to anyone.”
Significantly, ucil’s fresh bid to mine uranium in Meghalaya was also stiffly resisted. The company’s temporary lease for exploration was recently withdrawn by the northeast state (see: "Keep off!" July 31, 2003).
Controversial project ucil proposes to mine uranium from deposits in Lambapur and Peddagattu villages of Nalgonda district. The company also plans to install a reprocessing unit at Mallapur, about 18 kilometres (km) from the mine site. The identified mines in ap have 11.02 million tonnes of uranium ore, which will be extracted in about 20 years. The total leasehold mining area covers about 527 hectares (ha) and the processing plant is spread over 304 ha. ucil will be spending around Rs 400 crore on the project.
Since February this year, when the state government made ucil’s proposal public, there have been widespread protests against the project. Curiously, after the initial announcement, the state authorities maintained a studied silence on the issue rather than sensitising local people to the health hazards of uranium mining. “The residents have a right to know about the ramifications of the venture,” contended Rao after a visit to the villages. It was only in July that the subject was brought up again when notices regarding the public hearing were published in newspapers.
Allurements such as employment opportunities were then dangled to win over the residents. “The authorities have told us that Mallapur will be transformed into a mallepuvvu (jasmine) and developed on a par with hi-tech Hyderabad,” says Satyanarayana, a carpenter of the village who is planning to sell his 1.21 ha to the company.
Farcical interface Prasad divulged details of the mining plan in Hindi during the public hearings, but the statement was translated into Telugu for the local people. There was, however, no such provision with regard to ucil’s environmental impact assessment (eia) of the project.
ucil informed the gathering that only a fraction of the area to be acquired would come under forestland. But the fact is that about 445 ha out of the total site area of 527 ha lies in the Yellapuram reserve forest. The buffer zone of the notified Rajiv Gandhi Tiger Sanctuary falls within this belt.
ucil also claimed that ore deposits at the site contained high-grade uranium. But its own eia and environmental management plan dated March 2003 state that the level of the metal is only 0.02 per cent. ucil chairperson and managing director Ramender Gupta astoundingly uses the latter figure to portray the venture as being environmentally sound. “The uranium content in the Nalgonda ore is 0.02 per cent, while that in the mines of other countries like Canada is 2-12 per cent. This translates into lower risks (to human health and the environment in ap).”
Experts charge the company with remaining mum on the fallout from the possible contamination of waterbodies located in the area. It may be noted that the proposed mines are just 1 km from human habitation, hardly 10 km from Nagarjunsagar dam and barely 4 km from Akkampalli reservoir