The Uranium Corporation of India Ltd has applied for renewal of the mining lease for uranium and also for fresh allotment of 15 hectares of forest land for the construction of a tailing pond that will house the radioactive waste generated during the milling of uranium ore. The ore present in Jadugora in West Singhbhum district is of poor quality: 0.06% of natural uranium. Incidentally, this expansion plan is happening after the Government of India signed the Indo-US Nuclear deal and IAEA guidelines for nuclear co-operation with the Nuclear Supplier’s group.
Every day, more than three thousand tons of radioactive waste in slurry form is discharged from the uranium mill. While more than half the uranium in the ore would be extracted by the mill, all other major radionuclides in the uranium-chain, accounting to about 80% of the original radioactivity in the ore, will be found in the slurry. Burst of these pipes have almost become a routine event in UCIL. Such accidents and callous mismanagement after the accident have caused contamination of the people land and water sources.
The much-awaited public hearing by the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) is over. There was lots of public and there were also lots of policemen and members of different security forces. For every person not in uniform, there was one person from the forces in uniform, some wielding batons, others with rifles and some in riot gear. UCIL has about 2000 permanent workers and nearly 1000 people who are either on casual or temporary employment. So the total number of beneficiaries is about 3000, if you add the other members in the families of the beneficiaries, then UCIL family has more than 15,000 people. Though most of the workers are exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, most of them consider themselves fortunate and lucky. That is quite expected in a country where the wage rates/returns in farming is very low and there is not any other job opportunity.
On May 26, 200 villagers of Matigoda entered the UCIL premises and started ploughing the land. Even though the land was acquired long back, the villagers were paying the tax. They were not paid any compensation. Nobody got a job either. The situation became tense. They were invited for a negotiation after few hours. They were taken to the local police station. The meeting lasted for a few hours and ended with some promises, but no document was signed.
The public hearing was held in the private land of UCIL, near the camp of the Central Industrial Security Forces. Early morning, hundreds of UCIL workers and other beneficiaries had occupied the chairs kept in the hall for the public hearing. The real public, who have lost their lands for the mines and whose health has been damaged due to radiation, had no place in the entire process.
The hearing was held to get the peoples’ consent for a capacity addition of 20% and for another tailing pond to house the radioactive mill tailing. The total tailing that will be let off in the pond will be about 850,000 tons per year. About 15 acres of forest land has also been sought for these. UCIL got all what they sought.
A UCIL sponsored group carrying different banners supporting UCIL and its activities came and entered in the venue and placed their banners. Some of these banners were carried by small children, who did not understand the meaning of what was written on them. One banner carried by the supporters read: “when compared with hunger, pollution is a small issue. Save UCIL”.
When JOAR (Jharkhandis Organization Against Radiation) and other groups carrying their banners were trying to enter the venue, UCIL supporters man-handled, few women activist were beaten up and people were pushed away. Some fell down. Police and other security forces were mute spectators to this denial of a place to sit and air their grievances. Finally, the company supporters and the forces pushed the villagers out of the hall.
No one was allowed to enter the hall and allow to speek, in this situation JOAR and other organization decided to boycott the public hearing. We also joined them with shouting slogans – “public hearing is farce” - “stop false public hearing”-“land water and forest is ours”, we came out and sat for a Dharna.
UCIL succeeded in convincing the workers that those who were critical of the project were working towards closing down the mining and milling activities in Jadugoda. The slogans shouted by the workers and other beneficiaries and the placards they were carrying all said about saving UCIL. Incidentally, the critics’ position that they are demanding safe operations for workers, people in the neighborhood and the ecop-system was unheard.
Around 11 AM, the General Manager of UCIL read out a document listing the details of the project. The GM appeared like reading from a science text book. There were technical terms like Becquerel, in his speech. A journalist who was covering the event asked one of us: what does a Becquerel mean? The presentation by the general manger lasted for about 30 minutes. After this, the organizers announced the names of the speakers from the ‘public’. Everybody was unanimous on one issue – UCIL provides jobs, food, clothing and houses. All talks about radiation is anti-national propaganda. UCIL has to be protected at any cost. There is no need to hear any viewpoint which is against the interests of the company.
JOAR and other organizations fighting on environmental issues related to radiation, livelihood issues related to loss of land due to mines and contamination of farmlands and water bodies decided to boycott the drama called public hearing, as there was no possibility of presenting the view of the affected people. Ghanashyam Biruli, Dumka Murmu and Charan Murmu of JOAR briefed the press. Among their demands are (a) no new uranium mine (b) bring the existing mine under the international safety guide lines (c) return of tribal land acquired earlier, but not utilized for mining (d) provide livelihood and rehabilitation to the displace people.(f) clean up of the contamination (g) an independent study about the environmental contamination and health effects among the people (h) continuous monitoring of the water bodies to ensure that the radionuclides do not seep into the aquifer, the life line of more than 100,000 people. The activists also reiterated their position that there is no compelling need to expand the capacity of UCIL as the country can now buy uranium from international market.
There have been several research studies conducted by independent experts showing adverse environmental and health impacts among the people involved in mining and the communities living downwind and downstream the facilities in Jadugoda. Besides the scientific studies, the plight of the local population has been captured in an award winning documentary film –Buddha Smiles at Jadugoda. These evidences cannot be ignored or dismissed as anti-national propaganda.
We saw that India is producing less than one percent of the total uranium produced in the world. Nowhere in the world can one find a uranium mine and mill in the midst of thickly populated villages. Here, the distance between the tailing pond and the residence of the communities is less than a few meters.
UCIL has been operating for over four decades now. Many of the social problems like the just compensation for the land acquired, cost of medical treatment for radiation-caused illnesses among the workers and the local population, contamination of land, water and air have not been addressed at all. UCIL has to realize its corporate responsibility towards the First People of Singhbhum district, who has been forced to make sacrifices for attaining nuclear capability
Source and contact: Jharkhandis Organization Against Radiation (JOAR)
Health studies were conducted by Dr Sanghamitra Gadekar of Anumukti and recently by the Indian Doctors for Peace and Development, the Indian affiliate of the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). Conducted in two different phases, while one survey concentrates on villages within the radius of 2.5 km from the mines, a similar one was undertaken in villages about 30 km from the mining areas. A total of 2,118 households in the first category, while another 1,956 households were studied in the second category. According to the survey, more children - about 9.5 per cent of the newborns - are dying each year due to extreme physical deformity, primary sterility is becoming common with 9.6 per cent of women not being able to conceive even three years after marriage. Cancer deaths in nearby villages are about 2.87 per cent and 68.33 per cent people are dying before the age of 62.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report quotes only health studies conducted by UCIL. There is no mention about methodology or the details of the experts who conducted the study. According to those studies there are no abnormalities, whatsoever, which could be attributed to the operations of UCIL. While the independent researchers have published their reports in detail, the UCIL researchers have not made their reports public. As such, it is impossible to review them.