Conservation ConversationsEnvironmentPolicy Matters


Meera Bhardwaj:

Once again, Sandur in Ballari district is echoing with people’s anger against rampant mining expansion. 

Three villages – Yeshwant Nagar, Somlapura and Ankammanahal are up in arms against the setting up of RPCL Pellet Plant in their midst. People are fed up with continuing Eco-destruction and ensuing health hazards due to iron ore mining in this area.

There seems to be no respite from mining activity in villages surrounding the Swamimalai Forest Block or even the hilly forests with the state government permitting mining activity left and right, locals say. 

Already declared as a “Mining Affected Region”, more than 60 percent of the population have fallen prey to asthma, respiratory diseases, skin allergies and other issues. Nearly 15,000 people have expressed their deep anger to the district administration which held a Public Consultation Meeting on April 22 for setting up of this Red Category plant.

If 3800 letters were submitted by Yeshwant Nagar and Somlapura then another 600 letters from Ankammanahal made way. They have submitted their opposition to RPCL pellet plant to the Ballari Additional DC. All the protest letters were given through the office of the gram panchayat.

People cite the existence of some 35-40 mines in this region which has till date polluted water, air and soil to dangerous levels. 

Since 2014 when the RPCL Pellet Plant was first proposed, the villagers inform the project has been rejected not once but thrice by the Yeshwant Nagar Gram Panchayat. 

No green norms have been followed by any of these companies and people from this area complain of severe health & pollution problems. 

With nil medical facilities in these villages, the mining affected people have to go all the way to Sandur town for treatment.

Srisaila, member, Samaj Parivartan Samudaya (that takes up issues relating to environment) says the project site falls in the valley of Swamimalai Forest Block in Sandur. 

“The Pellet Plant site is hardly any distance from these villages, a polytechnic college and a water source to the Narihalla dam that will be cut. In fact, it will prove to be an Eco-disaster destroying water bodies, polluting air and soil and affecting farmers, students. Despite total opposition from the people, the company has applied for environmental clearance now.”

It is ironical, in this background, RPCL has started the civil construction work for this plant. Nagaraj from Yeshwant Nagar said, “The unfortunate situation is another plant has been proposed next to RPCL and so, MSPL is getting ready to put a pellet plant just 100 metres away. This is a clear violation of central government guidelines as another Red Category Plant cannot be set up within a distance of 5 kms.”

RPCL’s 3.2 MTPA Pellet plant with 3.6 MTPA pellet cum Beneficiation plant is coming up at Somlapura village, Sandur taluk in Ballari district at a cost of Rs 2000 crore. The company has started civil works with the construction of a compound wall followed by digging and levelling work at the project site. 

Mahesh, Somlapura adds, “Sultanpur village which faced the same problems due to mining and setting up of a steel plant is now at a juncture when all the people want to be relocated to a suitable area. Plans are afoot for relocation of this village but the state government is still dragging its feet…now even our plight will be the same if the RPCL Pellet Plant comes up in this fertile agriculture and horticultural land.” 

A visit to Yeshwant Nagar village reveals how fertile the land is and how farmers reap a rich bounty of horticultural crops year after year. This village is known for its Mango crop and its rich varieties. Some 50-60 farmers each owning between 5-10 acres grow the best varieties and export it. Other crops like Banana, Coconut and Maize are grown in this fertile soil irrigated by forest streams. 

A group of farmers from these villages add, “We not only grow mango, banana and other fruits but also export it to other countries. We will lose our livelihood if this plant comes up in our midst.” 

Permission was not granted by the GP as the plant site is just 300-400 metres from the Sandur Polytechnic College where 850 students’ study, adds Kashappa from Yeshwanth Nagar. 

Even the boys’ and girls’ hostel are located nearby and as per environment rules, it should be at a distance of more than a kilometre. Further the ancient temple of Kumaraswamy is just 1.5 kms away.” 

In fact, the Pellet Plant will come up just next to the Swamimalai Forest Block which is a biodiversity spot and home to leopards, peacocks and other wildlife. Activists opine the government claims they are developing the village and providing jobs but this is not true as rampant mining activities are destroying the natural ecology and taking away our livelihood.

People from the three villages add that there is no “Open Space” as the Project Site is located in an area surrounded by verdant forested hills. 

With rainwater flowing from these hills to water bodies like Doddahalla, the Pellet Plant will be an obstruction to the free flow of rain water.

While at Ankammanahal, nurseries have been established by farmers who market various types of saplings across the state.

Appealing to the state government, people from the three villages in Sandur taluk who are desperate say, “No more mines or pellet plants without addressing the serious issues of environmental and health hazards. We also have the right to live and strive for our rights in our lands.”