Once again, Swamimalai Hills will see destruction of its biodiversity rich forests for mining.
Despite total rejection of KIOCL’s (Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Ltd) mining proposal by Karnataka Forest department, the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has bulldozed and given final forest clearance for diversion of 401.5761 hectares of forest land.
The KIOCL’s Mining Lease deed for Devadari Iron Ore Mine has been signed for a long period of 50 years.
Expressing their dismay, activists question such a method of “unique clearance” and say whether forest and wildlife clearances are even needed in view of MoEF arbitrarily clearing projects.
This mining project falls in Devadari hill ranges, the virgin forests of Swami Malai (SM) Forest Block in Sandur taluk, Ballari district. It may be recalled as per specific recommendations of the Karnataka Forest department, the KIOCL project should not be accepted or considered for approval under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
With rampant mining in the SM block, Srisaila from Sandur and member, Samaj Parivartana Samudaya says village after village in Sandur is facing the brunt of destruction of its hydrology, biodiversity, and ecology. Already out of 1.3 lakh hectare forest area in this division, 6476.58 hectares has been diverted for 91 cases of mining which has caused untold misery and sufferings to the local population.
SITE INSPECTION REPORT
In fact, the Site Inspection Report (10.10.2019) of Ballari DCF has been thrown to the dustbin with MoEF giving the final forest clearance, say local activists. As per decision on 28.03.2016 under the Chairmanship of PCCF (HoFF), Bengaluru, it was decided not to grant approvals for new mining lease in fresh forest areas as it would cause severe soil erosion, destruction of streams and water sources and thus, cause severe environmental damage.
Further, it would destroy local streams, change local weather patterns, and lead ecological imbalance. The KIOCL project will further endanger the local water security and livelihood security of the local people. The proposed KIOCL project area (forest area) is a hillock, having steep slopes and very thick tree growth.
Leopard, Sloth Bear, Jackal, four-horned antelope, Hares, Wild pig, Indian porcupine, monitor lizard, Star Tortoise, Pangolin, Grey partridge, painted bush quail and Peafowl etc inhabit these beautiful forests.
Although the forest area is not part of a protected area, it sees lot of movement of wild elephants. During the site inspection, wildlife movement was observed in the proposed site and community droppings of Four horned antelope were noticed at various places.
MASSIVE TREE FELLING
Further, based on tree enumeration exercise, it was found that about 99,330 trees will be felled for the iron and manganese ore project which was reduced to 70,890 trees which is still a staggering number.
Major tree species include Anogeissus latifolia, Langerstromea paviflora, Terminalia tomentosa, Pterocarpus marsupium, Chloroxylon swietenia, Grewia tiliaefolia, Boswellia serrate, Madhuca latifolia, Acacia catechu, Azadirachta indica, Alibizzia lebbeck, Cassia fistula, Vetera indica etc. This would negatively affect the local flora, fauna, and other environmental resources, as per the forest department’s site inspection report.
The specific recommendation of the then DCF under FCA, 1980 was “Not to accept the proposal” and he had cited the following reasons.
EXCEEDING PERMISSIBLE PRODUCTION
The production capacity of all the existing mines (59 ‘A’ & ‘B’ category mines, 26 ‘C’ category mines and 14 mines whose ‘R&R’ Plan is yet to be approved) is 53.599 MMT. This far exceeds the 28 MMT Maximum Permissible Annual Production (MPAP) limit fixed for the ‘A’ & ‘B’ category mines of Ballari district (as per Supreme Court order dated 14.12.2017, in the Samaj Parivartana Samudaya & Others Vs State of Karnataka & Others).
Therefore, before expiring the existing opened-up mining blocks, recommending, and approving new mining lease in fresh or virgin forest area is not justiciable and would cause serious and irreparable damage to the forest, nature, and environment.
WATER SECURITY THREATENED
As per Chief Conservator of Forests, Ballari division, the proposed forest land is not part of any PA. but is having a thick dry deciduous Forests interspersed with grassy blanks. Most of these areas are pure patches of Anogeissus and Boswelia forests which are unique. “I have read the report of DCF regarding the annual production cap on iron ore as fixed by Supreme court in its order in WP No 562/2009. Overall, I recommend not to consider this diversion in the interest of forest, wildlife, water security and soil health of this land scape as its already subjected to severe damage by existing mines.”
The then APCCF (FC), Rajiv Ranjan too had rejected the proposal and said, “I concur with the reports of both DCF & CCF, Ballari and do not recommend for mining purpose. This is a very good dry deciduous forest and opening of such forested hills will cause severe soil erosion and effect the drainage system down below and finally the health of the inhabitants living in the vicinity. Loss of such dry, deciduous forests will be forever and cannot be recreated in any manner. And diversion will affect the ecosystem of the area. Hence, it is not recommended for diversion for mining by KIOCL.”
It is shocking that even after the KIOCL proposal was rejected lock, stock and barrel by the Karnataka Forest department, the state government over ruled the forest department and its expertise and recommended the project citing some inane measures for mitigating the massive destruction of virgin forests in this region.