Abstract

India aims to produce its own Uranium for its energy demands and rely less on imports. Several issues have been raised in the recent months regarding the ill-effects of uranium mining industry on the local residents, environment, and the overall economy of the region. There are serious security implications that require transparency and deliberations. The main aim of this blog post is to critically highlight these issues and place them within the wider debate of the needs of the nation as projected by the Uranium Corporation of India and the Central Government. It further briefly deliberates and analyses the regulatory framework and suggests the need to make the law in line with the emergent situations and international policy framework.

Introduction

India’s ‘Nuclear Energy Target’ shows an ambitious plan to increase the share of nuclear power in the composite of energy mix to 63,000 MW by 2032 [1]. Currently, India imports uranium from Kazakhstan, Russia and Canada, among others. India has also signed an agreement to procure more uranium from Uzbekistan [2]. However, India’s nuclear energy strategy has clearly shown that it aims to strengthen the domestic production of nuclear energy through indigenous mining of uranium. Currently, India is dependent on a number of mines in Jharkhand however, with an ambition to increase its capacity and encourage the use of energy efficient resources, it plans to expand and dig more mines in areas of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, and Meghalaya [3].

In this light, while “Make in India” seems like an ongoing strategy, there is also an interaction with international relations as is evident from India’s stand on Nuclear Proliferation and the trade agreements for Uranium purchase in the region. India’s Central Asian relationship has dimensions not only related to refuting China’s Belt and Road Initiative [5] but also concerns the uranium trade agreements. This is substantiated by the fact that India is developing a Mongolian oil refinery backed by Indian credit to help Mongolia attain greater energy independence [6]. The joint ventures with Kazakhstan are also projecting the same idea. Therefore, while the domestic uranium mining sector shall see progress, it is also relevant to note that the regional suppliers will continue to play a prominent role in both energy, security, and foreign policy [7]. The blog post will start with a brief regulatory framework providing the contours and issues of the uranium mining laws in India. It will then move on to present the debate regarding rights of the local residents, environmental concerns and construction issues in regions where uranium mining takes place. Smuggling of uranium and the issue of national security is also elucidated along with the countering viewpoint of the Uranium Corporation of India and role of judiciary.

Regulatory Framework 

India follows “No first use” policy for nuclear weapons. India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (“NPT”) as it considers the treaty as discriminatory against all those nations who do not wish to ratify it, declaring them nuclear states and/or putting sanctions on them [8]. Some authors have suggested that India could import Uranium to comply with the guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency through agreements and bi-lateral treaties e.g., the Indo-US Nuclear Deal in 2007. This would help the country to bypass the limitations faced as a result of being a non-signatory to the NPT and not taking the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group [9].

Uranium mining in India would fall under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 (AEA). The act covers all aspects related to radioactive substances and atomic energy. Section 2 of the AEA defines atomic energy as energy released from atomic nuclei as a result of any process, including the fission and fusion processes; fissile material means uranium-233, uranium-235, plutonium or any material containing these substances or any other material [10]. Therefore, uranium falls within the regulatory framework on AEA.

According to Section 5 of AEA, the ‘Central Government’ exercises control over mining or concentration of substances containing uranium. It also provides for proper disclosure requirements and further, it is the central government which may by notice in writing restrict the mining or change the terms and conditions of mining. Section 6 of the act provides for disposal of uranium by central government and section 8 permits a person authorised by central government to enter the mine, land, or premises and to conduct inspection and to make copies of or extract any plan or drawing or document after providing a duly signed receipt for the same. Thereafter, such person is permitted to retain possession for a period not exceeding seven days. As discussed, the central government therefore, has the main role in construction, permits and development of uranium mining. Here lie the issues raised above as to the consensus of state governments in the whole project.
It is important to highlight that the challenges faced by the ‘uranium affected villages’ stem from section 10 and 11 of AEA which have provided for compulsory acquisition of rights to work minerals, including the right to occupy the surface of any land for the purpose of erecting any necessary equipment, buildings and installing any necessary plant. As per section 21, on such acquisitions, the government is required to pay compensation, but in determining the amount of such compensation, no account shall be taken of the value of uranium which may be obtained from such mine or part of a mine [11].
Rule-making power also lies with the central government under section 30 of AEA [12]. Section 27 of the AEA provides for delegation of powers and with respect to the same, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is formulated. The board has been given the powers by the central government has appointed the Chairman of the AERB as the competent authority to frame rules and to exercise them [13]. Accordingly, several such rules and regulations are formulated that apply to uranium mining in India namely:
1. Atomic Energy (Working of the Mines, Minerals and Handling of prescribed substances) Rules, 1984 [14]
2. Atomic Energy (Safe Disposal of Radioactive Wastes) Rules, 1987 [15]
3. Atomic Energy (Factories) Rules, 1996 [16]
4. Atomic Energy (Radiation Protection) Rules, 2004 [17]
5. Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 [18]
6. Notification of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Rules, 2011 [19]
Further, with the setting up of Nuclear Insurance Pool, concerns surrounding Nuclear Liability bill are also dealt with for the private sector. [20]

Uranium Affected Villages: Energy Goals, Construction and Security

Time and again, India has come to limelight, as the residents of the regions where Uranium mining is to take place have raised objection, filed petitions, and shared concerns regarding environment, employment, and health, which essentially forms a part of their fundamental and human rights. Thereby, India’s position internationally is assessed by not merely entering into multiple trade agreements but also how efficiently these could be implemented. Therefore, domestic issues are seen through an international lens today.

As recent as in December 2020, the residents of five villages in the Vemula Mandal of Kadapa District in Andhra Pradesh went on indefinite strike with demands for immediate employment and rehabilitation as they would be severely affected by the Uranium Corporation of India Limited’s (“UCIL”) expansion of uranium mining and had threatened to disrupt the public hearing scheduled to take place in January 2021. The banner used in the strike uses the word “Uranium Affected Villages”. UCIL is a government corporation that is responsible for the mining and processing uranium ore in India. The residents alleged that UCIL did not carry out their end of the contract pertaining to compensation, employment, rehabilitation as farmers have lost their lands as well as livelihood in construction and expansion of Uranium Mining industry in the region [21]. While these are concerns relating to the contract, they also claimed, that because of poor construction of the tailing pond, plant waste affected their crops and underground water [22]. Such incidents are not new as in 2019 as well, retired scientist Dr. K Babu Rao along with other stakeholders had found that the residents surrounding uranium mining Vemula Mandal in Kadapa district villages suffered from various illnesses and did not have proper medical care. The effects were caused by the contaminated water and UCIL and the government were urged to provide purified drinking water to the households.

Telangana State Legislative Assembly passed a resolution suggesting the central government to stop and further not permit uranium mining operations in Nallamala forests and other areas of Telangana to protect the biodiversity and livelihood [23]. To this the centre had responded positively [24]. Even in October 2020, the Telangana Wildlife Board refused to accept a new proposal shared by the Atomic Mineral Directorate aimed at research and exploration of Uranium in Amrabad Tiger Reserve [25]. Reference here was largely made to the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2006 which declared the area as core/critical area of tiger reserve and whereby the government had asked for rehabilitation of tribes to protect the tigers and then permitted mining [26]. Constitutionally, it is suggested that there is a violation of Article 19 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India in mining projects and these may flout several environment laws like Environment Protection Strategy, 2002, Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2006 and Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, among others.

Some issues have also been raised regarding the construction of tailing ponds. Once the uranium is extracted, the waste product known as tailings are collected in a tailings pond. It has been argued that there are no dimensions or specifications for the tailing ponds in the existing laws and rules on uranium mining and energy industry. None of the rules and regulations dealing with this as discussed later in the blog post provide any information on the construction and maintenance of these ponds [27]. In fact, even UCIL has not provided these details in the paper on their website as to the levels of waste that can be filled in the tailing ponds [28].

Nuclear energy is one segment where India has regularly consulted the international practises and standards as laid by the International Atomic Energy Agency and thereafter, streamlined its legislative and institutional frameworks. However, it has been argued that the AEA is unwarranted for a civilian nuclear sector devoted to generating electricity for common population. As pointed above, the government provides little to no information about the uranium mines in terms of their construction or their security. This is because, AEA itself, permits the government to refuse to provide information to citizens requesting details of nuclear power plants or nuclear material for research or industrial purposes. Such secrecy and lack of safety frameworks has caused India to come under scrutiny for not clearly outlining the security aspects surrounding nuclear energy. As seen in the example of smuggling of Uranium, post the 9/11 attacks, the possibility of terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda and Taliban, gaining access to these materials has been raised often. This is also because United States National Security Archives had noted that Laden was interested in acquiring uranium and use weapons of mass destruction [29]. Therefore, the safety and security aspects do not limit to the locals of the region but have national security considerations as well. In practice, the domestic legal framework is insufficient and requires further clarity.

One of the most important areas where uranium industry has seen several debates is related to the security and safety of the Uranium mines and their storage. International incidents and debates aside, local industries of uranium also become targets for miscreants and therefore, the security of the region also becomes critical. Unlike other forms of constructions like residential buildings or a common industrial plant, in nuclear energy, national security concerns are high. It is of common news that radioactive materials are smuggled within India and around the region. In 2001, uranium of the Jaduguda mines [30] was confiscated as it was “planned to be smuggled across the Bangladesh border” [31]. Similarly in 2008, 5 smugglers of uranium were arrested in Meghalaya [32] and several such incidents have been reported across the country including the Nepal-Bihar-Jharkhand-West Bengal borders [33]. What is more relevant regarding the security concerns is that apart from news reports, such data concerning the security plans in uranium mines and their construction is not available in the public forums officially [34].

Thus, human, animal and the energy demand maybe at tussle with each other, yet if dealt with properly may provide several benefits. Security framework forms an overarching problem for this energy industry. Health, biodiversity and the environmental concerns regarding construction, mining and further development in Uranium industry has time and again seen a divide between centre and state goals. Energy production and exploration, therefore, requires a clear consensus between the Centre and the States [35], otherwise, it leads to stalling of projects or indiscriminate decisions may lead to disruption of the human and fundamental rights, socio-economic balances, and ecological dimensions.

Myth of UCIL: The Other Side of the Story

A key part of the UCIL website is titled as “Myth of UCIL” which talks about how some of the concerns raised above are unfounded apprehensions pertaining to Uranium mining and also gives examples of various studies carried out by experts to prove that the health, environment and other issues are not related to uranium mining or radiation but are connected the demographic issue of malnutrition, malaria and lack of hygiene among others [36]. UCIL has declared on several occasions that “Statistical data at regular intervals reveal no significant effect on ground and surface water bodies due to the uranium corporation’s activities. Similarly, up-take studies on more than thirty species of different groups (plant and animal) show that that there is no significant change in background radiation” [37]. Apart from the self-conducted surveys and consequent reports, the website in its Frequently Asked Question section also dispels and dismissed the questions raised about the environmental hazards, security and safety of the tribal communities in such regions [38].

The argument presented here is that construction of these mining projects goes through several stages like timely land acquisition, environmental clearance [39] and other requirements like mining lease, clearance from the forest department etc. Therefore, UCIL stresses on the fact that a proper environmental impact assessment is conducted by the corporations dealing with uranium and that policies on sustainable development are also adopted [40]. India has ratified the International Atomic Energy Association’s Additional protocols [41] and the UCIL follows the sustainable development goal of “Atoms for peace and development” as provided for in the United Nations Agenda of 2030 [42]. Further, that UCIL has also adopted the “Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013” [43] for Jharkhand. While the claims show that this energy industry is without any damage at all to the regions where they are located and developed, the implementation of the above-mentioned policies and practical considerations may show otherwise. Additionally, one cannot ignore the centre-state political angle in the whole process.

While environmental jurisprudence in India has been applauded on several occasions, however, matters related to uranium mining and their impact have seen less progress. For instance, the Jharkhand High Court in the case of Court on Its Own Motion v. Union of India And Ors. dated 16 December 2015 [44] took Suo motu cognizance of a news report [45] pertaining to uranium mining, radiation and the harmful effects on environment and population in village Jaduguda, Jharkhand and asked for detailed survey to be conducted for the same. Subsequently, the Jharkhand High Court as well as the Supreme Court of India did not find UCIL responsible and the allegations were held to be without merit. This was based on the affidavit filed by the Atomic Energy Commission, which stated that, “adequate steps have been taken to check and control the radiation out of the uranium waste” [46]. The court only asked UCIL to implement certain recommendations, like, strengthening the fencing around tailing ponds, effective maintenance of pipelines from the mill to the ponds, and spreading awareness about the concerns of radiation at health camps. In addition, UCIL was asked to conduct awareness camps on quarterly basis. Therefore, the judiciary has also chosen to study and break the myth that the uranium is causing any harm in the regions where the mining activities are being conducted.

Conclusion

The blog provided a brief overview of the existing situation on uranium mining industry in India and a brief overview of the related laws. It is evident that construction of any power project including dams etc, is not an isolated exercise. Energy laws must work in tandem with environmental laws, construction laws, land laws etc. While the projects may highlight the energy production capabilities of a nation and the international power politics, the socio-economic construct of a region, requires adherence to the obligations of the State and the rights available to the locals in the region emerging from the Constitution of India and other laws. Centre-State dichotomy and the issues of concurrent lists can lead to ambiguous implementation of existing regulations. Ensuring transparency and a rights-based inclusive approach can result in cooperation with the locals as well as state governance structure. Therefore, as India moves ahead with its nuclear ambitions and uranium-based energy, it important to ensure that this does not hinder any bilateral relations. In conclusion, it is necessary to highlight the need to streamline the laws and make them all-encompassing keeping regional, national, and international aspects in purview. Further, the judiciary can also advance its environmental law jurisprudence by taking active steps in protecting and promoting the rights of all the stakeholders in construction and development of uranium mining zones.

About the Authors

Dr. Garima Tiwari is an Assistant Professor at the School of Law, Bennett University.
Jhalak Srivastav is a 4th-year student at Amity Law School (Delhi) and is also an Associate Editor at the Indian Journal of Projects, Infrastructure and Energy Laws (IJPIEL).

Editorial Team

Managing Editor: Naman Anand

Editors-in-Chief: Akanksha Goel & Samarth Luthra

Senior Editor: Kanak Mishra

Associate Editor: Jhalak Srivastav

Junior Editor: Swadha Sharma

Preferred Method of Citation

Dr. Garima Tiwari and Jhalak Srivastav, “Uranium Affected Villages and the Myth of UCIL: Environment, Security and Rights-based Approach in Uranium Mining Regulations” (IJPIEL, 19 January, 2021)

<https://ijpiel.com/index.php/2021/01/16/uranium-affected-villages-and-the-myth-of-ucil-environment-security-and-rights-based-approach-in-uranium-mining-regulations/?et_fb=1&PageSpeed=off>

Endnotes

[1] Dept. of Atomic Energy, India’s Nuclear Energy Target 2019, Government of India, (Nov. 27, 2019), http://164.100.24.220/loksabhaquestions/annex/172/AU1536.pdf.

[2] Department of Atomic Energy, Contract to Supply Uranium Ore Concentrates, Government of India, (Nov. 28, 2019), https://pqars.nic.in/annex/250/Au1123.pdf.

[3] Uranium Occurrence and Production Centres in India, Uranium Corporation of India Ltd., http://www.ucil.gov.in/web/operetions_of_ucil.html.

[4] Operation of UCIL, Uranium Corporation of India Limited, http://ucil.gov.in/opr.html.

[5] Andrew Chatzky and James McBride, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Backgrounder, (Jan. 28, 2020), https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-massive-belt-and-road-initiative.

[6] Robert Brelford, India ramps up support for new Mongolian refinery, Oil and Gas Journal, (Oct. 8, 2019), https://www.ogj.com/refining-processing/refining/article/14068138/india-ramps-up-support-for-new-mongolian-refinery#:~:text=The%20government%20of%20India%20is,in%20Altanshiree%20Soum%20near%20Sainshand.

[7] Surya Kanegaonkar, India draws attention back to its civil nuclear and uranium mining ambitions, India.inc,
https://indiaincgroup.com/india-draws-attention-back-to-its-civil-nuclear-and-uranium-mining-ambitions/.

[8] Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, UNTC, https://treaties.un.org/pages/showDetails.aspx?objid=08000002801d56c5.

[9] Anupam Pandey, Legal Aspect of Uranium Mining in India: Issues and Concerns (June 7, 2020), https://ssrn.com/abstract=3621507.

[10] Atomic Energy Act, 1962, http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1962-33.pdf.

[11] Id.

[12] Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, Confronting India’s Nuclear Regulation Challenge, The Diplomat, (Mar. 23, 2020) https://thediplomat.com/2020/03/confronting-indias-nuclear-regulation-challenge/.

[13] Acts and Regulations, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, https://www.aerb.gov.in/english/acts-regulations/rules.

[14] Atomic Energy (Working of the Mines, Minerals and Handling of prescribed substances) Rules, 1984, http://www.dae.gov.in/writereaddata/AE(WMMPS)%201984.pdf.

[15] Atomic Energy (Safe Disposal of Radioactive Wastes) Rules, 1987, http://www.dae.gov.in/writereaddata/AE(SDRW)Rules%201987.pdf.

[16] Atomic Energy (Factories) Rules, 1996, http://www.dae.gov.in/writereaddata/Atomic%20Enery%20(Factories)%20Rules%201996.pdf.

[17] Atomic Energy (Radiation Protection) Rules, 2004, http://www.dae.gov.in/writereaddata/RPR2004.pdf.

[18] Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, https://www.indiacode.nic.in/handle/123456789/1362/simple-search?page-token=81e16322b30a&page-token-value=cd1a977866087e05c2eabef399f28c90&nccharset=EC9635B5&location=123456789/1362&query=The+Civil+Liability+for+Nuclear+Damage+Act%2C+2010&rpp=10&sort_by=score&order=desc.

[19] Notification of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Rules, 2011, http://www.dae.gov.in/writereaddata/liab_rules.pdf.

[20] Mohana Basu, Govt sets target to increase nuclear power generation capacity by over 3 times in 10 years, The Print, (Mar. 4, 2020, 4:22 P.M.) https://theprint.in/india/govt-sets-target-to-increase-nuclear-power-generation-capacity-by-over-3-times-in-10-years/375366/.

[21] Balakrishna Ganeshan, Kadapa farmers go on strike against UCIL’s uranium mining plant expansion, The News Minute, (Dec. 21, 2020, 1:58 A.M.), https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/kadapa-farmers-go-strike-against-ucil-s-uranium-mining-plant-expansion-139938.

[22] Id.

[23] Telangana Assembly passes resolution against proposed Uranium mining in Nallamala forest area, (Sep. 16, 2019, 2:19 P.M.,) http://www.newsonair.nic.in/News?title=Telangana-Assembly-passes-resolution-against-proposed-Uranium-mining-in-Nallamala-forest-area&id=371638.

[24] Pavan Kumar Bandari, Centre clears air on Uranium mining in AP, and Telangana, says it won’t permit excavations, Hans News Service, (Nov. 21 2019, 11:51 A.M.), https://www.thehansindia.com/andhra-pradesh/centre-clears-air-on-uranium-mining-in-ap-and-telangana-says-it-wont-permit-excavations-583179.

[25] U Sudhakar Reddy, Telangana wildlife board rejects Uranium exploration proposal in Amrabad tiger reserve, The Times of India, (Oct. 6, 2020, 11:13 A.M.), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/telangana-wildlife-board-rejects-uranium-exploration-proposal-in-amrabad-tiger-reserve/articleshow/78508270.cms.

[26] The Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2006 http://forestsclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Addinfo/0_0_611812112161Revised-guidelinesforrelocationpolicy.pdf.

[27] Sagar, Endorsed by Courts and the Government, Uranium Mining Continues to Create Health Hazards in Jadugoda as the UCIL Expands Its Operations, The Caravan, (Jan. 3, 2018), https://caravanmagazine.in/vantage/jadugoda-uranium-mining-endorsed-courts-government-ucil-expands-operations.

[28] R Gupta, AC Kundu and AK Sarangi, Uranium Mining, Milling and Tailings Disposal- Best Practices, North – East India Council for social Science (2003), http://www.ucil.gov.in/pdf/myth/Mining,%20milling%20&%20tailings%20disposal-best%20practices.pdf.

[29] Usama Bin Ladin’s Attempts to Acquire Uranium, CIA Freedom of Information Act Release, (Mar. 18, 1997), http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb388/docs/EBB003.pdf.

[30] A.H. Khan et al., Assessment of environmental impact of mining and processing of
uranium ore at Jaduguda, India, https://www.osti.gov/etdeweb/servlets/purl/20265806.

[31] A.H. Khan et al., Assessment of environmental impact of mining and processing of
uranium ore at Jaduguda, India, https://www.osti.gov/etdeweb/servlets/purl/20265806.

[32] Five arrested for alleged ‘uranium’ smuggling, say police, Space War, (Sep. 11, 2008), http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Five_arrested_for_alleged_uranium_smuggling_say_police_999.html.

[33] Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, et al., Chemical, Biological and Radiological Materials: An Analysis of Security Risks and Terrorist Threats to India, Observer Research Foundation and Royal Services Institution, (2012).

[34] Sitakanta Mishra and Happymon Jacob, Nuclear Security Governance in India:
Institutions, Instruments, and Culture, Sandia National Laboratories, (Jan. 2015), https://www.sandia.gov/cooperative-monitoring-center/_assets/documents/sand2015-0233.pdf.

[35] Preethi Mokshagundam, Is Indian Nuclear Law in Conformity with the Constitutional and International Law?, (June 18, 2015), https://ssrn.com/abstract=2620138.

[36] The UCIL Myth, Uranium Corporation of India Ltd., http://ucil.gov.in/myth.html.

[37] Subhrajit Sen, India’s Nuclear Dreams are a Nightmare for residents of a uranium rich Jharkhand area, Scroll.in, (Sep. 8, 2020, 1:30 P.M.),
https://scroll.in/article/972383/in-photos-indias-nuclear-dreams-are-a-nightmare-for-residents-of-a-uranium-rich-jharkhand-area.

[38] Frequently Asked Questions, Uranium Corporation of India Ltd., http://ucil.gov.in/faq.html.

[39] J-11015/394/2006/IA, Government of India, Ministry of Environment and Forest, (Feb. 21, 2007), http://environmentclearance.nic.in/writereaddata/Form-1A/EC/14_Jun_2016_180208173W2EQ3QRSEC.pdf.

[40] Sustainable Development Policy, Uranium Corporation of India Ltd., http://ucil.gov.in/pdf/award/SDPolicyofUCIL.pdf.

[41] India ratifies an additional protocol and will safeguard two more nuclear power reactors, International Panel on Fissile Materials, (July 1, 2014), http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2014/07/india_ratifies_an_additio.html.

[42] United Nations Agenda of 2030, https://sdgs.un.org/2030agenda.

[43] Adoption of Provisions of RFLCTLARR Act, 2013 in place of existing R&R Policy, 2006 in UCIL, (Oct. 25, 2017), http://ucil.gov.in/notes/Adoption%20of%20RFCTLARR%20Act,%202013%20by%20UCIL.pdf.

[44] Court on its own motion v. Union of India & Ors, (W.P.(PIL) No. 1188 of 2014, High Court of Jharkhand), https://www.dianuke.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/50-1188-2014-07082014.pdf.

[45] Chinky Shukla, Jadugoda: The Nuclear Graveyard, Hindustan Times, https://www.hindustantimes.com/static/groundglass/jadugoda-the-nuclear-graveyard.html.

[46] Supra Note 36.