Resources & Climate

Mining and the Maoists

in Program

By Andrea Falkenhagen – The rapid growth of the mining industry in India’s mineral-rich states has escalated the decades-long battle between the state and a Maoist insurgent movement. To effectively address this security threat, India must not only use a law-and-order approach to fight insurgents. It must also address, through mining and environmental regulation, the grievances caused by the exploitation of tribal and lower-caste locals in mining areas who serve as the insurgency’s base.

The Naxalites, a violent radical communist group born out of a 1967 rebellion, have long been ignored by India’s central government. But a spike in attacks in recent years has led the government to take them more seriously.  By some estimates, 15- 20% of Indian land is currently affected by Maoist rebels, who inhabit what is called the “Red Corridor,” an area that stretches from West Bengal to Karnataka.

The Maoists are responsible for attacks on both civilians and police officers. The insurgents also threaten India’s booming economy, as attacks on mining and railway infrastructure threaten close to $80 billion in access to deposits of iron ore, coal, bauxite and manganese. [1]

While the presence of natural resources and the burgeoning mining industry did not start the conflict, related environmental stresses have become significant drivers of violence by contributing to the outbreak of the conflict and financing it. Iron ore, coal and other minerals in parts of India have become conflict resources. Furthermore, tribes live in conditions of extreme poverty, and rather than improve their economic situation, recent industrialization in the area has exacerbated their problems by polluting land and making fresh water for local villages unusable.  Industry-caused displacement of tribal villages has frustrated local populations, making them increasingly vulnerable to insurgent’s calls to arms. [2] Also, poor implementation of national forestry laws has allowed local officials to harass forest-dwelling tribes who depend on the wooded areas for their livelihoods, by evicting them from their land and lodging criminal complaints against them for collecting resources from the forest. [3]

While these grievances served to mobilize a support base for the movement, recently, the Maoists have moved away from fighting the exploitation of the poor, to turning into plunderers themselves. While claiming to fight the mining companies, they also extort money from those same companies in form of bribes and protection money. Meanwhile, some mines have resorted to paying paramilitary groups to work as security forces.  Rebels also steal explosive material, such as RDX, from the mines, using some of it themselves and allegedly selling the rest throughout South Asia, yielding millions in revenue.

Any approach to resolving the Naxalite conflict therefore must address the role natural resources and mining play in the continuation of violence. India’s mining, environmental and development policies are a vital tool in the country’s strategy for addressing its internal instability.

Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh recently devised a controversial “Go/No-Go”plan, denying mining clearances in nearly 35% of the country’s coal areas due to ecological concerns. The government has also halted several high-profile mining ventures due to environmental concerns. Last summer, it took the unprecedented step of banning a bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa because of the impact the mine would have on the forests and tribal livelihoods. Such actions by the government could be one vital piece in winning back trust for the government, and belief in rule of law, in Naxal areas.

Critics have said the halt in mining permits will only serve to keep development from reaching areas where it is badly needed, thus prolonging the underdevelopment of mineral-rich areas that are also at risk for insurgency. Yet practical linkages between mining and diversified economic development of mineral rich areas are weak.

However, with The Mines and Mineral Development & Regulation Act, currently awaiting approval by the Indian Cabinet, the country could find a way of addressing this issue. Among other legislation, such as strengthening measures to fight illegal mining and tackling corruption in the mining sector, the Act proposes requiring mining companies share 26 per cent of profits with the local people affected by the projects. Even if the 26 percent figure is later watered down, as some analysts predict, the legislated assistance to locals affected by mining ventures appears promising. However, questions remain about whether the money would simply be divided up to individuals or go to promote community development ventures. Some tribal rights groups also say that financial assistance cannot make up for displacement, and that strong forest laws mean the tribal population should not ever be displaced.

These strengthened mining and environmental regulations do not substitute the need for law and order. Security in villages and in mining areas is necessary to eliminate the stream of weapons and funding to the Naxal rebels, as well as to allow development programs to take root. However, security alone will not solve the Naxalite problem. Only by addressing the root causes of the disenfranchisement of tribal people – much of which stems from environmental and mining-related grievances – can the government find a long-term solution to the insurgency.


Photo Credit: CPI flag in Nalgonda, India (By Shreyans Bhansali,  July 2005):




[1] “Pillai to End Maoist Gripon $80 Billion Investments,” Bibhudatta Pradhan and Santosh Kuma, Sept, 17, 2010, Bloomberg Business Week.

[2] Miklian, Jason. 2009. Purification Hunt: The Salwa Judum Counterinsurgency in Chhattisgarh, India. Dialect Anthropology, 33: p. 455.

[3] Asian Centre for Human Rights,  “The Adivasis of Chhatisgarh: Victims fo the Naxalite Movement and Salwa Judum Campaign, March, 2006.


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