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MINING NOW AT THE DOORSTEPS OF KUMARASWAMY TEMPLE IN SANDUR, SWAMIMALAI FORESTS IN PERIL

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By Meera Bhardwaj:

An ancient temple from the Chalukyan-Rashtrakuta era, Sri Kumaraswamy Temple is nestled amid pristine, misty forests in Karnataka, India. But now it is on the verge of destruction as mining has come to its doorsteps. 

The 1200-year-old heritage temple complex is bombarded by mining activity at 600 metres now which is destroying both the temple complex and the verdant forests of Swamimalai or Krauncha Giri. 

Till March-April 2020, mining had been restricted to a distance of 1 KM from the temple, however, with restrictions removed on mining activity, JSW (Jindal group) is operating a C-category mine just 600 metres from the temple complex. This is despite the assurances given by the company that they wouldn’t carry out mining within 1 KM from the temple.

MINING AT 600 METRES FROM KUMARASWAMY TEMPLE

Another company – MSPL (Baldota group) which too has been allotted a C-category mine is yet to begin its mining activity. And if that starts, it will sound the death knell for both the temple and the remaining Swamimalai block forests.

It was the National Institute of Rock Mechanics’ (NIRM) report that drove the final nail into the temple’s coffin as C-category mines took off at 600 metres from the temple. 

As per the report, blasting was not affecting the temple. H S Venkatesh, Scientist/Director stated in his report, “No vibrations were recorded from Nandi and Subbarayana Iron Ore Mines that are adjacent to the temple. But no mining activity should be permitted within 500 meters of the temple and without blasting.” 

In the aftermath of the NIRM report, the state government has happily allowed mining at 600 metres from the ancient temple.

Environmentalists add it is not at all surprising that BJP are in the forefront of aiding the destruction of this ancient temple complex despite their claims to have protected, restored many temples across India. They add, “The BJP government seems to be in no mood to either protect this hoary temple or stop the expansion of mining activity around it. In fact, fresh leases are being auctioned without a care for these biodiversity-rich forests.”

The ancient Kumaraswamy temple along with Harishankara and Naviluswamy temples is situated in the Swamimalai-Kumaraswamy Block and mining has badly impacted the soil, air and water sources here. This ancient heritage is located in Sandur taluk of Ballari district, Karnataka, India.

KUMARASWAMY TEMPLE DECKED WITH IRON ORE DUST

Situated amid misty forests and spiritual ambiance, the Kumaraswamy temple has given a unique identity to Sandur and it is listed as a monument of national importance, as per archaeological survey of India (ASI). But alas! The way to the temple, the outer walls of the temple and every sculpture and the deities have been drowned in metallic orange dust. 

On their part, the Mines & Geology officials reiterate mining is completely legal and regulated in Swamimalai-Kumaraswamy block. “Every mining activity is monitored while mining permits are given based on recommendations of an expert committee as per the CEC and Supreme Court directions.” 

RESERVE FOREST AREAS DECIMATED BY MINING IN SANDUR

Countering this, activists from Samaj Parivartan Samudaya who are fighting for regulated mining in these verdant hills say, “Mining is neither regulated nor fair. It is so unfair and against democratic tenets as the monitoring committee is made up of only officials from various government departments. There is not a single NGO or outside experts on the committee to check unfair mining activities.”

Samudaya member Sreeshaila Aladahalli adds, “Since the temple complex is an ASI monument, no permission should be given for mining within 2 KMS of any protected monument. Unfortunately, the 1978 rule which followed this 2 KM regulation was amended by the state government. It was Siddaramaiah government in 2015 which amended the 1978 order and made mining possible within 500 meters to aid mining activity. The result of the amendment is – one sees mining at the doorsteps of ASI temples. In fact, in 2013, the apex court in the Jambunatha temple case, had asked the state government to identify various temples across the state which are in the vicinity of mining but they failed to do so.”

IRON ORE DUST SWAMPING THE TEMPLE WALLS

T M Shiva Kumar, Jana Sangrama Parishath adds, “This is not only our heritage but also a spiritual complex. The Swamimalai hill forests which is the Western Ghats of the Central Deccan Plateau is a major water source for many river streams and tributaries with the rich biodiversity supporting many a flora and fauna. It needs much protection from mining before it becomes another Ballari. Opening of virgin forests in this block for mining will completely destroy the temple structures.”  

Time and again, ASI officials have written to the state government to protect the monument and not allow mining within two kilometres. But this has fallen on deaf ears. Presently, mining has been stopped at 600 metres from the temple but with rules being changed every now and then, the protection of this ancient temple and the hill forests looks pretty difficult.

STRIVING TO SURVIVE – CHALUKYAN-RASHTRAKUTA HERITAGE

With the state government going ahead with auction of more and more mining leases, activists fear very soon mining activity will flank the Kumaraswamy temple complex. “The day is not far off when this ancient temple will be lost for ever, once the remaining 350 hectares of forest land abutting the temple is auctioned off to greedy miners,” concludes Srisaila.