You are here

Paradise Lost – Indigenous tribes in Jharkhand fight against uranium mines (Tarun Kanti Bose and P.T. George)

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(NM776.4381) Sixty-five year old Siyaram Besra was born in the Dhodanga village of India's East Singhbhum District and has been living here all his life. But now he feels that his future is very bleak. A uranium mine and mill are very close to his village and the mining and dumping has reached the edge of his hamlet. The sound of blasting echoes in the mountains and disturbs the serenity and peace that he had experienced all his life.

The uranium mine waste rocks are carelessly dumped on to the paddy fields and grazing grounds, a few metres from his home where he sits all day. He is frail and sick. Doctors say he has tuberculosis and have been giving him medicines for that. He says the medicines have not helped cure his illness. Unable to do any work, he quietly sits on the verandah of his hut and stares blankly.

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) has been mining uranium in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. Several new mines are opening − Turamdih, Banduhurang and Mohuldih are the latest additions to the existing mines in Jaduguda, Narwapahar and Bhatin.

Jharkhand is protected by various acts like the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, Panchayati Raj Extension Act, Forest Rights Act and so on, providing various levels of protection to tribal people, their land, resources and collective rights. However, these provisions have been continuously flouted and twisted to benefit entrenched interests and lobbies. The Indian government and the Jharkhand state government have been trying to override these Acts and grab the tribal land and resources, all in the name of development.

Kumar Chand Mardi, a tribal leader and activist working among the displaced in Jaduguda and Turamdih, recalled: "Tribals have been ruined in the debris of development. Their status has been reduced to slavery and servitude. Their struggles have been intensified, especially after the formation of the state of Jharkhand." Mardi says the uranium mines in the East Singhbhum region have become a big threat to tribal people.

Focusing only on the question of energy actually dilutes the entire debate on nuclear issue. Xavier Dias, a senior functionary of Bindrai Institute of Research Study & Action Mines Monitoring Centre and an anti-nuclear activist pointed out that the whole debate about the nuclear science and the nuclear industry should be taken beyond issues of energy, because there is hardly any discussion on larger issues related to nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants and other nuclear installations. There is nothing safe in uranium mining, in transporting the ore, in processing it, getting it converted into fissile materials that could be readily used either for the power plant or for the production of nuclear weapons.

The displaced villagers reveal that hundreds of acres of their prime land have been taken away for the Banduhurang, Turamdih and Mohuldih mines. Thakur Soren, a farmer, says that "22 acres of our family agricultural land has been taken away by UCIL for the Mohuldih mine. A good stretch of prime forest land also has been acquired for mining". With no alternative livelihood, he now works as a daily labourer in one of UCIL's uranium mines.

Jhameli Murmu, a villager from Byanbill Panchayat, says: "Around 1050 families in Nandup village in my Panchayat are displaced by uranium mining. When the uranium mining project was approved and the land acquisition began, there was no discussion with the local Gram Panchayat on this issue". She further pointed out, "the state government and the UCIL together, forcibly took away our land and the UCIL gave some compensation to few people amounting to Rs. 50,000 or 60,000 [less than US$1000] per acre which is far too low at the market rate. A lot of people are yet to receive any compensation".

Many of the displaced tribal people, due to sheer frustration and lack of employment opportunities, have turned to brewing local alcohol, selling datun (neem stick used as toothbrush) or doing odd jobs to meet their daily needs. The situation is very grave for the displaced and the landless. There is a very high rate of unemployment, poverty, hunger and malnutrition among them.

According to Xavier Dias, the miners working in UCIL's Turamdih mines and mills, Banduhurang open cast mines and Mohuldih underground mines are at great risk, because of their continuous exposure to high concentrations of radon gas. Radon-222 is a decay product of uranium and a highly carcinogenic alpha emitter. When inhaled it gets deposited in the air passage of lungs, irradiating cells which may later become malignant. Uranium miners are also exposed to radium-226, another uranium daughter, which is an alpha and gamma emitter with a half life of 1,600 years.

Many people working in the UCIL mines of Jaduguda, Bhatin, and Narwapahar − though it is kept as a secret − have died of lung cancer. "What happened to those workers in the older mines would also happen to miners working in the new mines of Banduhurang, Turamdih and Mohuldih. A deadly fate is eagerly awaiting them all," said Xavier Dias.

The uranium tailings pond in Talsa village is very close to Bada Talsa village where hundreds of tribal people live. The construction of the pond began in 2005 and was completed in 2010. The nuclear waste slurry from the Turamdih Uranium Mill is dumped into this tailings pond.

Sahebram Murmu, who lives on the edge of the tailings pond, is of the opinion that since only one side of the tailings pond is fenced off and all the other sides are kept open, it creates lots of problems for the villagers. Wild animals and even domestic animals often get trapped in the poisonous sludge and die. Often, the villagers' cattle also stray into the pond, get trapped in the poisonous sludge and die.

The villagers and the experts point out that the Talsa Uranium Tailings pond is not constructed in line with international standards. Leakages and bund bursts have occurred several times in the tailings pond resulting in radioactive waste overflow into paddy fields and low-lying areas.

Murmu further pointed out that during the construction of the tailings pond, UCIL cut down thousands of trees which adversely affected their local environment. Now the remaining trees around the tailings pond are also dying, due to the high acidity level in the pond. In June 2008, due to heavy rain at Talsa village, the outlet of the tailings pond was unplugged by UCIL as the pond was on the verge of collapse. Because of the high contamination and radiation, fish in the downstream Subarnarekha River perished overnight. Several hundred snakes, rats and other rodents also died. Paddy fields turned yellowish and dried up.

The radioactive debris from the uranium mines in Jharkhand has heavily polluted the underground water and the Subarnarekha River flowing through the states of Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha, a fact that UCIL has been rejecting all the while. Water from this river is used for agriculture and for drinking by the people living in all these states.

Arjun Samad, president of the Turamdih Vistapit Samiti, says: "The issue of radiation from the uranium mines is being ignored or overlooked by the people here. The Adivasis living here are disturbed over issues of livelihood, farming, employment etc. Whenever our organisation raises these issues and protest, the police harass the villagers and book them under several false cases. Custodial violence at the police station is also a big issue." Arjun further recalled that recently, several boys belonging to the Turamdih Vistapit Samiti were tortured and abused by the police, because they raised their voice against UCIL. The police derogatorily call the Adivasis (tribals) 'junglee' and uncivilised.

The Jharkhand state government, under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme, is constructing around 80,000 water wells to help address the shortage of drinking water. The granite stones used for the construction of some of the wells are obtained from the uranium mine waste. It is a matter of serious concern that needs to be probed.

Shutting down the dirty business of uranium mining in the whole country is a big political issue. We should wait for the day when the masses of this country and the government are able to collectively see the wisdom, that the uranium mining is a very risky business that can adversely affect people's health and the environment. Only then, these dangerous mines could be closed down and alternative sources of energy could be developed which are more eco-friendly and sustainable. Until then, the hapless victims of uranium mines in Jharkhand, especially the Adivasis whose land and resources are being looted, will continue to suffer.

Writer and editor Tarun Kanti Bose and P.T. George, director of the research institute Intercultural Resources, spent six months studying the effects of uranium mining in Jharkhand. Their report, 'A Paradise Lost: Tribes of Jharkhand Fight against Uranium Mines', is posted at or



India's renewable energy prospects

When the world thinks of countries that could go 100%, the immediate thoughts go to islands with solar and storage, hydro and geothermal rich countries such as Iceland, or even wind and wave-rich countries like Scotland. One of the last economies imagined going fully renewable would be India, the rising economic giant that is still yet to connect several hundred million people to its mostly coal-fired grid, and is expected to have the highest growth of electricity consumption.

But according to environmental group WWF, India could reach a goal of 100% renewables by 2050. The study examines the possibility of a near 100% Renewable Energy Scenario for India by the middle of the century against a reference scenario in which the economy is likely to be dependent primarily on fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas. WWF says that to get there India must make some large-scale changes to get on the right track as soon as possible. According to the report, aggressive energy efficiency improvements alone can bring in savings of up to 59% (by both the supply and demand sides) by mid-century.

Renew Economy, 17 Jan 2014,
WWF India, 'The Energy Report − India 100% Renewable Energy by 2050',


Harsh criticism for India's nuclear safety regime

India's nuclear safety regime is "fraught with grave risks", a parliamentary committee has reported, saying the country's nuclear regulator was weak, under-resourced and "slow in adopting international benchmarks and good practices in the areas of nuclear and radiation operation".

The bipartisan Public Accounts Committee tabled a scathing 81-page report in India's parliament, critical of the decades-long delay in establishing an independent regulator for the nuclear-armed country. The parliamentary committee said India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board was not an independent statutory body but rather a subordinate agency of the government.

"The failure to have an autonomous and independent regulator is clearly fraught with grave risks, as brought out poignantly in the report of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission," the report said. "Although AERB maintains liaison with international nuclear organisations, it has been slow in adopting international benchmarks and good practices in the areas of nuclear and radiation operation."

The regulator cannot set or enforce rules for radiation and nuclear safety in India, the committee found. In many cases there are no rules. Despite an order from the government in 1983, the AERB has still not developed an overarching nuclear and radiation safety policy for India. "The absence of such a policy at macro level can hamper micro-level planning of radiation safety in the country," the report said. As a result, India was not prepared for a nuclear emergency, the report found.

"Off-site emergency exercises carried out highlighted inadequate emergency preparedness even for situations where the radiological effects of an emergency origination from nuclear power plants are likely to extend beyond the site and affect the people around."

The maximum fine the AERB can impose for violations of law is 500 rupees − "abysmally low", according to the committee.

This is not the first time the safety of India's nuclear industry has been questioned. The committee's comments echo those of the government auditor-general, who last year found that 60% of regulatory inspections for operating nuclear power plants in India were either delayed − with some up to 153 days late − or not undertaken at all. For power plants under construction, the number of regulatory inspections delayed or not undertaken was 66%. Smaller radiation facilities operate across the country with no licences and no oversight at all.

Abridged from: Ben Doherty, 20 Dec 2013, 'Harsh criticism for India's nuclear safety regime',

See also: