The department of water and sanitation’s failure to ensure coal mining companies comply with water use licences could potentially be a human right violation, according to the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER).
Wits University School of Law professor and chair of the board of the CER, Tracy-Lynn Field, said the department’s failure to hold coal mining companies accountable for polluting water resources and not abiding by water use licences could see the department being hauled over the coals.
Field said the department had an obligation to ensure industries do not pollute water resources and by its failure in ensuring coal mining companies do not commit such environmental crimes, the department was violating people’s basic human right of access to quality water.
She said the department was responsible for pressing criminal charges against any company or individual posing a threat to this right.
Earlier this year, research by CER found eight coal mining companies in Mpumalanga had failed to comply with water use licences and threatened the quality and availability of water in the area.
The eight coal mining operations for which water use licences and independent audit reports obtained were: Tweefontein South, Manungu Colliery, Leeuwpan Coal Mine, Khutala Colliery,Vanggatfontein Colliery, Isibonelo Colliery, Goedgevonden Colliery and Kangala Colliery.
The research revealed that not one of the companies took responsibility for the contamination of rivers caused by water leaving their sites during rainy conditions.
Secondly, some of the companies were found to have exceeded their water excretion measures set in the water use licences.
The noncompliance had led to acid mine drainage from mines, polluting surface and groundwater with acid, salts and metals. It affected human health, livestock, crop production and aquatic ecosystems in the area.
Despite the massive impact and risks coal mining posed to water resources, almost none of the water use licences make water treatment and financial provision to fund water treatment an upfront requirement, the research found.
Financial provision for mining rehabilitation administered by the department of mineral resources was also supposed to include water impacts, but few companies provide for post closure management of water in the DMR-administered provisions.
In actuality, policies and licences failed to protect the people of Mpumalanga.
The department’s spokesperson, Sputnik Ratau, said it was indeed true that the department had the power to press charges against companies violating their water use licences.
He said the department would probe the files of the accused mining companies and see the conditions set in each of the water use licences.
Meanwhile, community members around the contaminated water resources, such as the Olifant catchment river, called for an area-based management agency that would prevent further harm to the water resources.
CER law expert Leanne Govindsamy said only two companies had contacted the organisation on solutions. She said they were engaging with the department but nothing concrete has come out of their engagements, yet.
The Citizen contacted the accused companies for comment on their stance on the research findings, but none of them responded.