Bellary Turning Red: Environmental Damage Due To Unethical Mining

  • SumoMe

Bellary is red.

The dust emanating from the illegal mining sites has covered the city in a hue of red; symbolic of how Bellary has bled over the past few years. Reportedly, 90% of the mining activities in Bellary are illegal. For authenticity, refer to the account information of the Reddy brothers. The rape of Bellary is characterized by the use of prime forest area for mining purposes; inefficient and unethical activities and, unplanned dumping of wastes.

Irreversible damage has already been done to the Bellary-Hospet area. Extracting mineral ore from the earth is a dangerous process if not done judiciously. The Reddy Bros. have made a fortune out of illegal mining and have been virtually untouchable. They even used their political clout to flout the orders of the Supreme Court.

Consequences

The climate of the Bellary region is semi-arid and the main environmental issues the area faces are water scarcity and dust concentration. A study conducted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) shows that suspended air particles at many locations in the district were far above the national health standards.

Mining in Bellary is done on high altitudes and, unplanned dumping of the wastes on these altitudes coupled with loose soil from mining makes land susceptible to erosion. The waste then flows downstream and ultimately gets to the rivers and reservoirs. According to a study by the Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology, 13.96gm of silt is carried away by every litre of water. The unethical miners, more often than not, cut costs by skipping vital prevention procedures.

The mechanized and semi-mechanized methods of mining are used for mine development whereas the ore collection is mostly done by manual method. Mines are often discarded after use. They are left open and are then prone to seismic inconsistencies, erosion of the topsoil etc.

Earlier, rainwater used to flow down the hillocks and replenish underground aquifers. Now this rainwater picks up dust along the way, contaminating water and degrading soil and making farming difficult. The fauna is also badly affected. Species like the Egyptian vulture, yellow throated bulbul, white backed vulture and four-horned antelopes have vanished due to depletion in the forest cover on account of mining.

In a 2005 study by the Jagratha Nayaka Balaga, an NGO based in Bellary, the total capacity of the reservoir has come down from about 133 thousand million cubic metres (tmc) to 99 tmc in recent years. This has, in turn, threatened aquatic life and given rise to irrigation problems.

Mitigation

Tailings dams need to be constructed in order to store the mine dumps. Check dams need to be constructed to check any wash-outs of the waste dumps. Instead of using the primal forest area on the slopes, closed valleys devoid of thick vegetation should be used for dumping.

Intensive afforestation programs need to be adopted for creating a green belt and to avoid soil erosion by binding the soil together. Water sprinkling and wet drilling techniques should be used to avoid air-borne dust emissions. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, in their report titled ‘Comprehensive Industry Document on Iron-Ore Mining’ (2007-08), the NDMC has been in adherence to all of the above mentioned mitigation measures. According to them, it is the illegal miners who, looking for quick profits, plunder the earth and leave it ravished.

Status Quo

Many of the mining companies sign contracts which promise full or partial restoration of the mine land before undertaking a mining project. They also sign environmental procedural forms. Reportedly, most of the illegal mining in Bellary is done with the collusion of the government and its services. Seemingly, the statistics pertaining to pollution levels may be higher than shown on the reports. A lot of companies have been shown ‘on paper’ to be adhering to the environmental norms mentioned above.

Stopping private mining isn’t the best solution as it puts the working class out of employment. The miners have managed to plunder the area and make obscene amounts of money. It is the common working man who suffers. The state government has weakened and it is up to the centre to come up with a sustainable and sensible solution.

Bodies like the Lokayukta have asserted their power over the matter and have brought much to light. There is not a lack of methods of environmental preservation but a lack of will to follow them. It’s a sorry state of affairs and has spread to neighbouring Goa.

Anirudh Madhavan

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