Thursday, 15 August 2013

A double edged sword

It is a small village in Shahapur taluk of Yadagir district of north Karnataka. Till an year ago, this village was known for housing the tombs of three Adil Shah Emperors of Bijapur, including the founder of the dynasty.
The Adil Shahi tombs are located in the premises of a great Sufi saint, Chandah Husaini Gogi. The village of Gogi is 12 kms away from Shahapur.
Apart from the tombs, the village had little else to boast off  but all this changed when the Government of India stumbled upon uranium in the area.
The discovery of high-grade uranium deposits has put the village on the national mining map. The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) is all set to mine it. This approval to mine the radioactive mineral comes after four years of exploration and research.
Till the discovery of uranium in 2007 and the UCIL exploration, the village of Gogi was known among historians and research scholars for the presence of the Adil Shahi tombs. The religious inclined knew about the dargah of the Sufi saint,
However, since Gogi is far away from the tourist circuit of Bijapur, very few cared to visit the village which boats of having the tombs of  the first Emperor of the Adil Shah dynasty, Yusuf Adil Shah (1490-1510), Ismail Adil Shah (1510-1534) and Ibrahim Adil Shah (1534-1558).
Gogi shot into limelight when the UCIL secured environmental clearance for the development of  uranium reserves. The corporation has decided to adopt mobile mining technology for the project.
Though Gogi has a very small deposit, it is of very high-grade. Therefore, the corporation has decided to mine the uranium by using mobile retractable mining technology for extraction.
This technology would incorporate feeding, screening, crushing and a processing plant on a single mobile platform.
The uranium mine will have a life of 15 years during which it will supply fuel to nuclear power plants in southern India. The total deposits is put at 4,250 tonnes. It is classified as high grade with 0.1 per cent uranium content. This grade is as good as the uranium deposit in Meghalaya. The Gogi uranium is reckoned to be better than the uranium discovered at Jadugoda in Jharkhand which is considered  is inferior with only 0.05-0.06 per cent uranium content.
However, villagers of Gogi are now fearful of  the exposure to uranium. The mine and mills, which would be spread over 40 hectares, had now met with vehement opposition by villagers, NGOs and elected representatives.
The UCIL will process the ore at its plant to be set up at Diggi, six km from the mining area of Gogi.
Gogi lies in the Bhima river basin and the area is primarily dependent on agriculture. It is irrigated by the Shahapur branch canal.
Once the ore is extracted, it would be milled and further processed using the alkali leaching method. This method has been found to be most suitable for uranium extraction. The resultant sodium diuranate, which is also called yellow cake, would be transported 250 kiometres to Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad for further processing.
The UCIL has estimated that it needs at least 238 acres, including the water bodies and Umaroddi and Muhadapur reserve forests, to set up the plant apart from supply of one million litres of water per day and 8100 KVA of power from Gulbarga electricity supply company (GESCOM). The plant will employ about 361 people directly. The cost of the project: about Rs. 550 crores.
However, in all likelihood, we may end up hearing about Gogi all the more in the coming days as uranium mining is classified as highly hazardous. Moreover, a vast amount of rock has to be mined if uranium is to be extracted. As uranium is highly radio active, even the remnants called tailings will have the character of emitting radio active waves and they can retain upto 80 per cent of the radio activity of uranium.
Moreover, disposal of tailings is bound to be a major headache. Besides, uranium ore occurs with pyrites which, when exposed to air and water, transforms into sulphuric acid The acid has the propensity to penetrate into the acquifers (water sources) and it is highly toxic and can contaminate water.
Though a public hearing on the project was held under the auspices of the District Commissioner of Yadagir district in November 2010, many safety and health issues still remain, claims the villagers. The Environmental Impact Assessment report (EIA) report too appears to have raised more questions than providing answers. 
By the way, waste from uranium exploratory mining has already and is still being released into Kelaginakere lake. Though the waters of the lake are not used for drinking, it is utilised by industries, shops and hotels. Besides, people use it for washing clothes and even bathing, agriculture and for cattle. Villagers claims that the water is already contaminated and that it is causing skin diseases and allergy.
Gogi has also reported many complaints of fluorosis. However, health officials claim that this has nothing to do with uranium exploration. They say that 60 percent of the land in Yadagir district has rich content of fluoride and this is the major cause of fluorosis.
In an interesting development, the Ministry of Environment and  Forests, Government of India, has “closed” the project file relating to mining plant at Gogi. It has also delisted it from the pending list of projects.
A letter by Director of Ministry of Environment and Forests, Dr. Saroj. to the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd on December 28, 2012,  states that the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) has pointed out that the committee on public hearing looking into the issue of setting up the plant is headed by the Assistant Commissioner of Yadagir though he is not the competent authority to do so.
As per the law and as per the  provisions of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of 2006, the Deputy Commissioner should preside over the public hearing committee and not any other officer. Hence, the hearing is deemed not valid and it has to be conducted afresh according to the law laid down.
The letter says as the public hearing on the project was postponed without following the mandated procedures, the Ministry has decided to close the project file.

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