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SURVEY FOR MINING DEMARCATION IN SWAMIMALAI-KUMARASWAMY FOREST BLOCK COMES TO A HALT AMID PROTESTS

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By Meera Bhardwaj:

In view of demarcation for MSPL (Baldota group) company’s mining lease, survey and marking of fixed points around the 1200-year-old ASI Kumaraswamy Temple complex took off on Thursday but came to a halt amid protests by activists and devotees. Submitting a memorandum to the Mines and Geology department, environmentalists demanded ‘No demarcations should be done till the SC constituted expert group study on the impact of mining on Protected Monuments’ is done in Karnataka.

The Department of Mines and Geology had taken up survey work and demarcation of the area around Kumaraswamy temple complex (Parvati and Karthikeya temples) in Sandur taluk, Karnataka for MSPL’s lease which is just 350 meters from the temple. The survey work was taken up in the presence of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Karnataka Forest department, state archaeology department, Survey Department and mining companies – NMDC, JSW, MSPL and SMIORE who have their mining activities in the Swamimalai-Kumaraswamy forest block.

Presently, a C-Category mine of JSW (Jindal group) is operating at just 600 meters from the ASI protected Kartikeya and Parvati temples. Adding fuel to fire, MSPL which has been allotted a C-category mining lease just 350 meters from the temple, are now looking to start their operations but 600 meters from the temple in the same forest block and so the survey work was taken up, activists said. 

Sreesaila Aladahalli, Samaj Parivartana Samudaya added, “Despite mining at the doorsteps of the temple and one more company, MSPL getting ready to start their operations,  no assessment studies have been done to ascertain the damage caused to the temple. Even temple architecture study has not been done. Till the Supreme Court directions are followed – to set up an expert committee to study the impact of mining in heritage areas, no demarcations should be done nor visited by anybody. In this background, we did not allow the survey to be done although they had marked four points around the temple and rest two were remaining.”

Another aspect which was put before the M&G department was the safety factor. T M Shiva Kumar of Jana Sangrama Parishath says, “Not only the temple complex but the dense forests are being decimated by continuous mining and so, giving fresh leases in this forest block is unacceptable. No consideration has been given to safety factor at all and wherever heritage monuments are there, it should be 4 and not 3. This is all due to internal lobbying that has been going on for years…”

With the state government adamant in providing fresh mining leases and expanding mining to virgin forest areas, it is a do or die battle for the activists while officials from both ASI and forest departments are helpless. 

In a letter to the state government, ASI, Regional Directorate had brought all the facts about the temple’s unique heritage, being a monument of National Importance, comprises the sacred valley of Vibhuthi Gudda, a place that evokes religious feelings as also highlighted the irreparable damage caused to the temples by mining and blasting in the Swamimalai hills. 

But alas! The state government has turned deaf and mute, say local people from many nearby villages who are part of the temple heritage and culture.

Parvathi and Kartikeya temples are protected by ASI and it extends to an area of 2.5 acres. The temples belonging to the Chalukyan-Rashtrakuta period is located at 900 m in the Swamimalai forests and dates back to the 8th century. 

The significance of this place is also due to its location near the sacred valley of Vibhuthi Gudda (hills) and it is full of natural springs, evergreen forests with medicinal shrubs. 

It finds mention in the Puranas as Skandagiri and has religious and pilgrimage value. Moreover, temples dedicated to Lord Kartikeya are very few in India and that too in such a location. 

The monument located in a distinctive mixture of natural and cultural features in the landscape has given a unique identity and that is why it is listed as Monument of National Importance. It is this setting which has given this Monument a sense of place. 

Here, not only the temple per se but also its associated natural setting has a lot of religious and cultural value among the community in the last 1200 years. The temple authorities have time and again, complained about the loss of religious sanctity and environmental purity due to the intense effect of mining.

The ASI letter (13.11.15) to the Karnataka government clearly states the main destruction caused by mining – the heavy machinery used, high intensity blasting, and transportation of iron ore.

Due to the manifold increase in volume and intensity of blast and its consequent effects, the impact of mining has also increased manifold in the last few years. On account of this, the ASI has brought up the matter with the state government for the last two decades for protection of this monument and banning of mining activity.

The Regional Director (South), ASI has stated, “As per Supreme Court directions (Civil Appeal No:4823/2013) the Centre will constitute an Expert Committee/group to examine the impact of mining on protected monuments under the 1958 Act and take necessary remedial measures as was done for the Jambunatha Temple (a monument protected by Karnataka government), Hospete, Ballari. 

However, despite these observations by SC, no action has been taken to study the impact of mining on protected monuments including Sandur either by state government or centre. In this regard, until a complete assessment on the impact of mining is carried out, no fresh mining licenses be issued till such time.”

Further, there has been a big question mark on the safety measures taken by the mining company as it is situated very close to the temple. 

As per National Institute of Rock Mechanics (NIRM), the safety factor is three while the report says it varies between 1.5 to 3. However, as per prevailing rules, safety factor for mining operations should be 4 in Heritage areas of the country. However, the irony is disregarding all norms and rules, mining has been permitted by the state government in dense forests and in the vicinity of monuments of national importance.