Seventy per cent of the world’s bauxite resources are situated in the developing countries including India. India ranks sixth in the world bauxite deposits (7.5 per cent share). World bauxite production is of the order of 125 MT whereas India’s production is around 5 MT. India has adequate resources which need to be developed early.
Two bauxite mines with export-oriented aluminum plants are coming up. Still there is scope for further bauxite mining for export-oriented alumina plants. The resource position indicates a quite comfortable position for India for at least 50 years.
The Eastern Ghat region accounts for the country’s metallurgical grade bauxite reserves. In 1995-96 and 1996-1997, bauxite production was around 5.1 MT.
There are 224 mines, most of them small, opencast and manually operated, except 15 major mines which account for 72 per cent of production and of this one mine, i.e., Panchapatmali mine accounts for 45 per cent of country’s total production. Orissa is the leading producer followed by Bihar, Gujarat, and M.P. etc. in bauxite.
In India, bauxite exploitation is done by the opencast mining method only. The mining industry and processed industrial materials, e.g., explosives for blasting are mainly required to mine lateritic bauxite by the opencast method.
Like any surface mining, bauxite exploitation causes definite disfigurement of earth surfaces and reddish brown patches appear on the plateau top. Major environmental problems associated with bauxite mining are deforestation, removal of the top soil, alteration of landscape, surface and groundwater contamination, air, dust and noise pollution and generation of waste products.
However, an effective environmental management plan can minimise the ecological disturbances and even the bauxite-mining site may be transformed into lush green forests after few years of mining.
Thus, a bauxite-mining venture in the ecologically sensitive areas becomes more cumbersome and costly. Some large and viable bauxite deposits of Eastern Ghats are located in ecologically sensitive areas with thick forest cover and mining in some cases would become prohibitive and require special care.
All these add upto the costs and hence necessary investment due to sensitiveness of the area has to be taken into account. Eastern Ghat’s bauxite deposits are mainly located in tribal areas and in some cases the terrain is highly dissected and rugged.
The development of new mines in remote areas requires heavy investments in physical infrastructure. This may, however, be compensated by opening large mines to reduce unit investment cost.
The damage to the environment due to mining of bauxite had been witnessed in the Amarkantak mining area. Both leading aluminum producers, namely, Hindalco and Balco, mined their requirements but disfigurement, water pollution, deforestation, destruction of natural habitat, flora and fauna etc. have been reported.
Damage control exercises have been taken up by the project authorities under the direct supervision of state and central anti-pollution agencies. Restoration work in the mining area was also undertaken. The area has been declared as eco- sensitive area.