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Dynamites & JCBs greet you at this bio-diversity hotspot
Despite the ban on mining activities in Western Ghats, a private company is
carrying out mining at Ambaragudda in Kodachadri. In the backdrop of widespread protests, P N NARASIMHA MURTHY and BASAVARAJ SAMPALLI probe the issue.
The whole world is aware of the Kargil war of 1998, fought by the Indian soldiers against the invading Pakistani army. But a similar invasion for a different purpose has been reported from Ambaragudda in the Kargal forest region of Kodachadri in Sagar taluk, and the government seems to be turning a blind eye towards it!
Declared as one of the bio-diversity hotspots in the world, Kodachadri Hills is a sensitive forest region. But if you visit the place now, all you hear is the deafening noise of dynamites and JCBs engaged in mining activity. The reason - a Hyderabad-based business group called ABC Company is carrying on mining in the 300 acres of Ambaragudda, situated amidst the Sharavathi and Mookambika reserved forest regions. It is said that the manganese ores obtained from here will be exported to China like in most other cases.
Surprisingly, though the Karnataka government has already banned mining activities in Western Ghats, and even small farmers in the region have been evacuated by the forest department officials, following the verdict of the Supreme Court in this regard, this has not deterred the miners from digging for Manganese in Ambaragudda. What’s more, the mine owner’s office has come up right next to the forest check gate!
However, the deputy conservator of forest pleads ignorance about the whole issue. According to the villagers, these ‘illegal mining activities’ were started after the elections were declared, during which period permission is not granted for any new
As everything was being carried out in a very hush-hush manner, it was only recently when the Swamiji of Ramachandrapur Math in Hosanagar taluk went to visit the villagers, did the mining activity come to light. He immediately formed a protection group called ‘Kodachadri Sanjeevini’, comprising his followers, to collect details about what calls an ‘illegal activity’.
When the activists of Sagar’s ‘Vriksha Laksha Andolana’ and ‘Seva Sagara Prathishtana’ enquired in this regard with the forest officer in Shimoga, they got a typical bureaucratic answer: “We are not aware of any such activity.” Quite naturally, official apathy has generated a lot of furore in the region.
The anti-mining and pro-environment sentiment which has been intensifying in the Malnad area since the past few years has now found an expression again in the widespread protest against the mining activities in Ambaragudda. Just when the long-tortuous struggle against Kudremukh mining seemed to have succeeded in obtaining a favourable judgement from the SC for winding up the mining operations the activist groups and people are up against mining once again. They have been angered by the almost clandestine manner in which mining is alleged to be going on in this area belonging to the rich Western Ghats. “These government officials neither have any concern for the environment nor are they aware of the laws of the land,” laments Anantha Asheesara, one of the activists fighting against the mining activities in Kodachadri. What is surprising however, is the fact that an activity like mining, which involves the use of heavy machines and a large number of labourers, did not come to the notice of the officials. Besides, the ABC Company has also set up a colony for the mine workers who are mainly from nearby villages like Marathi, Ikkibeelu, Kasagodu and Muralli. And all this without the knowledge of the custodians of law!
The people here say a local politician even tried to convince them by saying that only 18 acres of the revenue department’s land was being used for mining and it had no adverse effect on the ecology of the region. However, it is reported that the mining activity, which was permitted in the revenue land, has quietly encroached upon the forest land in the guise of widening of approach roads. The locals also allege that many trees in the forest have been chopped for widening the road. Interestingly, the forest department also seems to argue that the widening of the road has indeed been done in some part of the forest area without the necessary permission. The mining company however, argues that it has obtained technical and official clearance for the mining operations and that it is not conducting the operations in the forest area. It also maintains that it has been functioning well within the limits of the law.
But activists strongly assert that any form of mining activity anywhere in the Western Ghats should not be allowed because it will have long term effects on this bio diversity hot spot. They are also perhaps justifiably suspicious of the hidden plans. As Prof Kumaraswamy, an environmentalist from Shimoga says, ”Though mining is being carried out in the revenue land, the forests surrounding the place will not be spared of its adverse effect. In addition, as a result of the mining, the top cover of the hillock will slide into the rivers, lakes and dams in the form of silt.” As a proof to this, the mud carried by the rainwater from the site of mining is accumulating in the nearby Shola valley. “The Kodachadri forest area has already been identified as a bio-diversity hotspot. Mining here will have very bad effects on the environment,” warns botanist Prof Keshava Korse. But the company officials claim that they have taken all necessary precautions to protect the environment from any form of danger arising out of mining. We have implemented requisite measures to ensure safe transportation of the ore without polluting the environment, they assert.
According to Sagar Sub-division DCF, the forest department is not in a position to interfere as the mining activities are carried out on revenue land. “However, as we believe that they have violated the law by using the forest land for widening the roads and also for transportation of the ore, we have initiated suitable action against them,” she adds. The department officials recently seized the equipment used by ABC for mining activities including the JCBs. When questioned why the forest guards had also not noticed the mining activities in the vicinity, the DCF reluctantly admitted that suitable action will be initiated against them for breach of duty.
What adds to the controversy however, is the statement by former legislator of Hosanagar G D Narayanappa that he himself was kept in the dark about the mining activity. A strong feeling of betrayal among the people is therefore noticeable. Against the background of mega hydel projects, mining activities and destruction of forests which have been plaguing the Malnad region, the people here feel that this area has been viciously targeted by everybody for ruthless exploitation. There is a genuine apprehension that the celebrated bio-rich, forest-rich, rain-drenched Malnad of Kuvempu would be destroyed out of existence. This sentiment found a strong expression in the recent anti-mining people’s meet led by the pontiff of the Sri Ramachandrapura Mata Sri Raghaveshwara Bharati Swamiji. Interestingly, the pro-left anti-mining groups are yet to join the movement in a big way. However, almost all sections of society including legislators of the region have opposed this mindless mining projects.
However, the strong opposition to mining from the people and the experts hasn’t gone waste as the digging in the region has been temporarily suspended. But what is needed is a permanent ban on mining in Kodachadri forest region. Already enough life forms in the Western Ghats have been sacrificed at the altar of development. Any further damage to the ecology of the region should be stopped by all means.
With inputs from Vidya M Joseph and M Raghavendra
Translated by Sushma Mohan