HYDERABAD: The proposal of the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) to survey and explore uranium ore in the largest tiger reserve in the country that spreads across 2,800 sq km in erstwhile Mahbubnagar and Nalgonda districts poses a threat to not only to the wildlife and the tribals who inhabit the jungle, but also the residents of Hyderabad.
The extraction of uranium ore is likely to generate so much of radio-active waste that it could contaminate Krishna river too which flows about 15 km away from the places where uranium ore is proposed to be extracted. Krishna river happens to be one of the sources of drinking water to Hyderabad and several other towns.
Telangana forest department officials have not yet given any go-head to the UCIL but the stand of the government is not yet known - whether it would allow mining of the ore and provide necessary logistic support to the UCI or oppose? In fact, in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, the TRS had opposed it when a similar proposal came up for mining of iron ore in the past.
The inhabitants of the forests, mostly chenchus, see a future a little disconcerting for them as, if the UCIL is allowed to mine the ore, they would have to be rehabilitated. Several chenchus believe that it is like evicting them from their homes and asking them to relocate at some far away place.
The apprehensions which might soon turn into agitations could cause headache for the State government which is already saddled with the problem of tribals opposing forest officials raising plantations in lands on which they claim ownership. Coming in defence of the tribals, the ruling party MLAs are now at loggerheads with forest department, a development which no ruling party welcomes.
The Amrabad tiger reserve in Nallamala forest has not only tigers but also several other wild animals including sloth bears, wild dogs, spotted deer, sambhar and wild boars. If UCIL begins extracting uranium ore, then it cannot do it without disturbing the wildlife habitat, driving them away from the reserve. This apart, the uranium ore mining would contaminate water resources which are essential for wildlife to thrive, leading to a telling effect on their health.
Though iron ore mining in the tiger reserve is only in proposal stage, there is no guarantee that it would not lead to mining of the ore with Jadugoda mines in the deep forests of Jharkhand slowly running out of the ore. In Jaduguda, which is the only area from where uranium ore is being mined, the workers have to go to a depth of more than 70 metres which is not only risky for them but also is turning out to be very expensive, forcing the UCIL to look elsewhere for uranium deposits.
The extraction of the ore, though highly mechanised, has its own impact on
bio-diversity, the environmentalists argue. For making the ‘yellow cake’, the finished product of uranium ore before it is sent to Hyderabad for conversion into the type of uranium that is used as fuel in nuclear reactors, a lot of drilling has to take place. A rough estimate says that for every 100 kg of iron ore, the yellow cake that is extracted from it will be about 35-40 gms.
Now the latest clearance has come from the Centre to the Department of Atomic Energy after the wildlife advisory committee also gave its consent in May for exploration for uranium in 83 sq km in four blocks of which three blocks fall in the tiger reserve.
The sylvan woods dotted with springs and waterfalls may soon yield to the clanking sounds of the machinery drilling underground tunnels to extract the ore. The environmentalists say that uranium mining might be in national interest but it should be done only after answering the questioning they are raising on the fate of the verdant greenery, the eco-sytem, biodiversity, displacement of tribals and contamination of ground water. They warn against tampering with nature as it might lead to consequences unimaginable.