Importing minerals to export troubles?

Ramesh’s ‘not-in-my-backyard’ suggestion is dangerous

neha

Neha Sethi | May 12, 2011



Has India arrived as a superpower? There are enough indicators to suggest that we are no better than any (other) third-world country on several parameters ranging from corruption to malnutrition. However, here is one robust indicator of our superpower ambitions: Environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s suggestion to metals and minerals firms that instead of spoiling our pristine forests, they should do their mining elsewhere, for example, in Mozambique and Australia. The 21st century version of imperialism, straight and simple.

Ramesh, officially the environment minister and unofficially a green crusader, said at a public function last week that Indian companies would be better off if they import raw minerals from abroad rather than disturb the country’s forests. Let me make it clear that he said so in all seriousness and not as a joke. He said that Indian companies should invest in using mines abroad. They should then add value to these minerals mined from other countries. The minister also added that some Indian companies have already bought mines in countries like Mozambique and Australia.

Ramesh has been at loggerheads with the coal minister for long over categorisation of forest areas as ‘go’ and ‘no-go’ areas for mining. He wants some of the dense and pristine forest areas to be clearly marked as no-go areas, where no mining of minerals is permitted.

While mining abroad may certainly appear as a solution to end the standoff between the two ministries but can this be a long-term solution? What the environment minister also seems to have forgotten here is that mining is not an environment friendly activity in any country. Be it Mozambique or India, the impact that mining has on the environment cannot be very different.

With this step, the minister may be able to stop the protests going on in various parts of the country by tribals resisting the takeover of their lands for mining. But what about the people of countries like Mozambique? Are not their rights or their forests as important for the world as India’s? Isn’t it how colonialism started – by exploiting the natural resources of less ‘developed’ countries?

Moreover, a man of Ramesh’s intelligence (I presume) knows very well that environment (and its problems) cut across national boundaries. In the long run, destruction of forests anywhere is bound to affect all of us.

Ramesh might be thinking that mining outside the country may put an end to a lot of problems he has had to grapple with in the recent past. Cleaning up your own house just to throw the garbage in front of your neighbour’s house is not an attitude that can help us face environmental challenges.

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