Even after mining ban, better livelihoods still a dream

Trucks on way to a mining site near Devagiri-Kamtur village, 30 km from Sandur. photo by V M Nagabhushana

N H Malliswamy, a resident of Devagiri-Kamtur village near Sandur in Ballari district, is an accidental activist fighting for the rights of the villagers. This transformation happened after he realised that the mining ban didn’t bring to an end the miseries of people in the mining-affected areas of the taluk. Around 30 km from Sandur town, Devagiri is one of the villages worst affected by illegal iron ore mining. Like Malliswamy, thousands of people residing in and around in Sandur, Hospet and Ballari taluks are pinning their hopes on R&R plan - a reclamation and rehabilitation plan, funded to the extent of Rs 13,000 crore so far. The money is with the Karnataka Mining Environment Corporation (KMEC) set up by the state government, which is to administer the funds.

The state government wants a further Rs 7,000 crore, taking the total amount to Rs 20,000 crore for the next 10 years. The Supreme Court is yet to approve the state government’s proposal on how to spend the money. The Supreme Court is likely to hear the proposed action plan again on November 20.

Ever since the state government banned export of iron ore in 2010 and the subsequent ban on ‘insensitive and reckless’ mining in the state by the Supreme Court, there is no positive change in the livelihoods of people in these areas. While the ecosystem of the region has improved, the ban on mining has deprived the local people of employment. On the other hand, R&R is still a non-starter. This has taken a toll on the living conditions of the people in Ballari district.

Though people eligible to be rehabilitated are waiting for the R&R scheme to start, they are not the only ones waiting for it. Local activists say that politicians, bureaucrats and contractors are all eyeing this money. Though R&R fund is also for the development of mining affected areas in Tumakuru and Chitradurga districts, the lion’s share (Rs 17,157 crore) will be used in Ballari district, which is worst-hit by mining.
 

 

When DH visited Devagiri village, Malliswamy was standing near a water treatment plant being built in the village by National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), which has one of the biggest mining clusters in the region. There are around 2,000 people residing in the village and the village was surrounded by Varalakshmi Minerals, K N Srinivasa Mines, Ambika Ghorpade Mines and DMS Mines when mining was at its peak. All these mines were closed in 2011. At present, NMDC and Sandur Manganese and Iron Ore Ltd (SMIORE) operate in and around the village.

Dust is yet to settle

“Partly, we (villagers) blame ourselves for the situation we are in today. Those days, when illegal mining was in full swing, we thought it was a thing to stay. Some sold their land, while some others leased out their lands for mining. That apart, every villager used to work in the mining fields. Today, we have neither lands to cultivate nor jobs to make ends meet. Since 2012, I have been fighting for a survey to be done to identify the lands belonging to the villagers. The district administration has conceded that villagers have got their lands centuries ago as Inam lands. However, survey has not been done because the Mines and Geology Department has already allotted these lands for mining operations,” he says.

Malliswamy says the Bellary Zilla Gani Karmikara Sangha has moved a petition before the Supreme Court seeking settlement of their rightful compensation. “A complete ban on mining rendered around 25,000 workers homeless. Mining companies used the pretext of the Supreme Court order to further deny the workers their statutory rights pertaining to retrenchment and compensation as per Industrial Disputes Act. Cases are pending before the Central Industrial Tribunal with respect to 10 mines,” Malliswamy says.  

According to the district administration, the extent of Devagiri village is around 1,442 acres. Apart from Devagiri, 13 other villages (totally measuring 11,913 acres) are Inam lands, allotted to the tribes for serving the ancient Kumaraswamy Temple located in Kartikeshwara village. The villagers have got their ‘Hakku Patra’ (occupation certificate). However, the extent of the land is not known yet.

 

The villagers are also opposing granting of mining lease close to the Kumaraswamy Temple. The village is surrounded by four mining operators now — state-owned Mysore Minerals Ltd (MML), Kartikeya Mines (which in the online auction has been acquired by another mining company MSPL of Baldota group of companies), HT (Hortur Traders now taken over by JSW Steel) and NMDC. 

Before the mining boom, agriculture was the only source of livelihood in Sandur and Hospet. The farmers would grow paddy, finger millet, maize, areca, cotton and chillies. 

“Since it was profitable, many farmers either sold or leased out the land for dumping iron ore waste. When there were buyers for even low grade iron ore, farmers started digging the land and sold anything and everything they could dig,’’ Malliswamy said. In Hospet region, farmers say that farming in the available land is also futile as dust gets settled on the crops and they ultimately get Rs 10,000 as crop loss compensation. 


A ‘C’ category mine in Sandur which has been auctioned and which will soon be operational. (Photo by V M Nagabhushana)

 

Mining workforce

The situation of mining workforce, mainly women, is no different in villages in and around Hospet, around 55 km from Ballari. Sakhi Trust, a voluntary organisation, which has rescued several women from the mine fields, has identified many who have lost their livelihoods after the ban on mining.

“Women working in the mining fields used to face serious problems. Now almost after nine years of the ban, R&R has not started. Many women and men have migrated to neighbouring districts looking for jobs in construction sites and as daily wage labourers in agricultural fields. Those families who remained here don’t have access to proper education, health and other basic amenities. Malnourishment is another major issue in these villages. As we see, agriculture is the only source that generates employment throughout the year. At least 300 days of job in a year should be ensured to at least one person in a family,” M Bhagyalakshmi, managing trustee of the organisation told DH. Some of the badly affected villages including Kariganur (300 houses), Papinayakanahalli (650), Bylodgeri (900), Vaddrahalli (250) and Danapura (850) are in Hospet taluk.

Jainashree, who after the mining ban went on to continue her education, now holds a degree in journalism. She teaches and holds workshops for women rescued from various villages. “I had worked in the mining field when I was a Class 8 student. After the ban, I joined Sakhi and completed my degree in journalism. We (villagers) used to dig our on agricultural land for iron ore and a large portion of the land is lying vacant now. When I didn’t know much about repercussions, I used to like it. But now I feel it is not good for the society and the environment. The treated water from the dam is largely routed to the industries but villages are not getting clean drinking water. Even after eight years of the ban, people are anaemic and malnourished,’’ Jainashree said.

After slapping a ban on mining, the Supreme Court directed the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE, Dehradun) to study the environmental impact and suggest measures. The report submitted by the then director general of ICFRE Dr V K Bahugana recommended R&R policy to mining affected people. The Supreme Court directed the state government to set up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to collect money for the implementation of Comprehensive Environment Plan for the mining Impact Zone (CEPMIZ).

Thus, the state government, on the directions of the Supreme Court registered a company called Karnataka Mining Environment Restoration Corporation (KMERC). The money collected through SPV, proceeds of the auctioning of C category mines (mining leases cancelled by the apex court for gross violation of norms) and percentage of sale proceeds of A category mines (working leases wherein no illegality or marginal illegality were found) and B category mines (mining leases wherein pits outside the sanctioned mining areas have been found to be up to 10% of the lease areas) is accrued in KMERC.

No proper planning

“The KMERC was started in the year 2015 and it was decided to run this company for 30 years. The state government was asked to prepare an action plan to implement the R&R plan for three districts — Ballari, Chitradurga and Tumakuru. The proposal has been revised thrice. The Supreme Court has time and again reiterated that a well planned and executed R&R is a must to compensate what it called ‘extraordinary and irresponsible mining’ carried out over the years. I feel the state government somehow failed to convince the Central Empowered Committee and the Supreme Court on the utilisation of the SPV amount,’’ says Shivakumar M, a social activist from Hospet who is creating awareness among mining affected communities on rehabilitation.

Initially, the allegation was that the administration didn’t hold public meetings. Then, several meetings with all stakeholders were held. Most of the activists in Sandur, Ballari and Hospet, who did not wish to come on record, suspect that the state and district administration is eyeing on the huge fund readily available. So much so that some officials are said to be paying huge bribes to get posted to key taluks in the districts even before the Supreme Court cleared the plan for the utilisation of the fund for Ballari district. Considering all these developments, the activists feel the entire spending of the SPV amount through KMERC should be under the supervision of the SC.

S R Hiremath of Samaj Parivartana Samudaya (SPS), a non-governmental organisation that spearheaded the fight against illegal mining, says the Supreme Court hearing on November 20 would be crucial to decide on the spending of the fund. “The fund should be protected like how cobra protects the wealth in mythological stories. In August and October this year, we held meetings of people affected by mining. We submitted the memorandum to Ballari deputy commissioner and also to the development commissioner of KMERC. For us, the highest priority is to address the issues pertaining to people affected by mining over the years. We will ensure that every paisa is utilised properly. We will keep a constant watch on the development since on an earlier occasion they (the state) tried to mix this fund with general funds,’’ Hiremath said.

Only inclusive R&R programmes can ensure better life for the people living in the areas ravaged by mining. 

 

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Even after mining ban, better livelihoods still a dream

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