Toxic Mining in Tribal India

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“I have had three miscarriages and lost five children within a week after their birth… Even after twenty years of marriage, we have no children today,” sobs Hira Hansda.  She is from Bhatin village in Jadugoda in the eastern state of Jharkhand in India.

By Moushumi Basu/WAVE India

Jadugoda is home to the only uranium mine in India and Hira Hansda’s story is tragically common among the tribals who live here.  The area has a higher number of miscarriages, still born births and physical and mental defects in babies than the national average. Medical studies have shown that deaths in the villages surrounding the mine were also occurring earlier than. 62 years of age, the average life expectancy in the state. 

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Congenital deformities

Kaderam Tudu from the village of Mechua, considered himself fortunate when his wife delivered a baby successfully, but was shocked to find that his baby son had a flap of loose flesh where his ear should have been. Today his son Shyam is eight years old and suffers from a severe hearing impairment.

"Nine percent of the mothers surveyed in the affected villages reported congenital deformities as the cause of their children’s death as compared to under two percent of the mothers in other villages in the region.”

Ramesh Hansda (name changed) is an employee of the Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL) that runs the mine.  His wife had two miscarriages, so he was overjoyed when she delivered a healthy baby. But soon, they learned that their son Birsa was mentally handicapped.

“Initially we thought that our suffering was caused by evil spirits and black magic, but we later realized that it was due to the effects of uranium radiation,” said Hansda. 

And he says that the knowledge of what happens to people living near the mines affects how the locals treat the people of the villages around them:  “neither are the other villages willing to marry our girls here nor are they willing to accept ours.”

 

People pay the price

Stories like these pour out one after the other from Jadugoda.  But the nation needs more uranium to enhance its nuclear power-generating capacity and there is a major thrust to do this, in the wake of the Indo-US nuclear deal. So a further boost in the indigenous production of uranium is expected in the mines of Jadugoda, as well as others in Meghalaya and Andhra Pradesh.

International nuclear experts, Dr. Tilman Ruff, from International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and Prof. Hiroaki Koide from the Research Reactor Institute at Kyoto University have expressed serious concern about India’s uranium mines, saying “nowhere is human settlement so perilously close uranium mines as in Jadugoda, causing severe health and environmental impact.” 

The experts further claimed that that the ore mined here is of low quality and the requirement can be met internationally through the import of high quality ore.

However, India wants to more than double the current production of uranium by the end of 2012. And despite objections from national and international bodies, it seems that the people of Jadugoda will be paying the price for their country’s ambitions for generations.