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Mining: A Shift Towards A Sustainable Future

With responsible public and private management, Mining Industry can continue to make a unique and powerful contribution to sustainable development

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Mining has always been viewed as a potentially powerful development engine for humanity for a long time. Many significant industries rely on the mining industry for basic raw materials. The growing demand is due to the rise in infrastructure development, power industry, cement industry, and iron & steel industry. As a result, we are exceedingly dependent on minerals and metals for almost every facet of our life, from construction to technological innovations. 

Population growth, urbanisation, social and economic development, and even demands for a green or low-carbon economy contribute to an ever-increasing demand for minerals and metals. However, this increased demand also leads to challenges such as land-use change, deforestation, erosion, contamination of wetlands, and carbon emission in and around the mining areas. Hence meeting this demand and achieving the sought benefits come at a cost – to people and to the environment.  

The reality lies at the heart of the concept of Sustainable Development, where the critical focus then is not on how mining can be sustainable but on how mining, minerals and metals can contribute to sustainable development. 

Given the looming threat of climate change, several strategies to decarbonise have been devised, including plans to go net-zero by a certain identified date, approximately three decades further down the road from today. At the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November last year, the Prime Minister of India announced that India will achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2070 and take its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030. Hence the mining industry has now adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) owned by the Ministry of Mines in their work to offset this. These SDGs focus on mining practices that are environmentally sound and socially responsible, ensuring financial viability and incorporating regulatory requirements recommending techniques to address the challenges of sustainable development and mutually beneficial relationships between government, companies and local communities. 

We should also stay focused on prioritising environmental concerns in our policy and simultaneously continue to take various proactive measures to protect the environment and ecosystem around the projects. I believe that we have to enhance our production levels to meet society’s needs and, at the same time, consider the need to care for the environment by implementing the Green initiatives, including reclamation of mined-out areas and plantations in and around the mining areas. For the reclamation, the topsoil in these disturbed areas is segregated and stored in the demarcated area to restore the mine pit by reusing it and creating shallow water bodies in mined-out areas. Greenbelt development is also a part of this initiative for plantations, mostly done using recycled water with drip irrigation which helps to reduce the noise around mines, infrastructure and roads.  

Venturing into greener carbon footprints by harnessing the Wind energy, Installing Solar & Thermal Power Projects, and using LED lights, Rooftop Solar Panels, and Diesel fuels with emission standards (equivalent to Euro VI / BS-VI) also showcases commitment toward reducing carbon footprints. Regular Energy Audits and Water Audits are mandatory, along with the use of an Effluent Treatment Plant (for mine water treatment) and ERP Systems for a sustainable environment. CSR initiatives should also work in this direction along with lighter & more efficient types of equipment to decrease the dependency on conventional energy. 

With responsible public and private management, Mining Industry can continue to make a unique and powerful contribution to sustainable development. In particular, the industry can and will play a pivotal role in implementing the SDGs that the United Nations have defined. Communities, organisations, and individuals worldwide have translated the SDGs into a plan for action, and I think that it’s time for us to drive the next phase of transformation.  

We need to steer the operations responsibly with technological advancements and emphasise uplifting people’s lives as an industry. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Roopwant Singh

The author is a senior officer in the Indian Administrative Service (I.A.S.) and the Managing Director of Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation (GMDC)

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