The grass is green, but is only sheen

Desperate effort to hide illegal mining before CEC visit

The grass is green, but is only sheen

In areas that mining has devastated in the district, it is a race against time. Dozens of workers are plucking out whole chunks of grass from the bed of a tank, with the soil intact, and are transporting them to hills whose sides have been ripped open for iron ore.

The sod is struck, soil and all, onto the sides of the bare, brown hills, to make them look green. It is a desperate effort by mining companies to hide the wounds they have inflicted on the ore-rich hills that were once verdant, before ore was found and the rapacious miners undertook strip mining, mostly illegal.

The reason for the urgency to “green” the land is the projected visit of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court to Megalahalli, Bheemasamudra and other areas in the district that have been virtually raped for the ore.

The objective of the mining companies is to protect themselves against the charge of the environmentally-destructive mining. The local residents have complained ad nauseum about the huge clouds of dust from mining that has affected their health and settles on their lands, ruining agriculture. Neither the mining companies nor the district administration had bothered about the complaints.

But with the Supreme Court dealing with the mining cases with an iron hand, the ore extraction industry is quaking in its boots. Never much conscious about environment, the mining companies are now in an overdrive mode for damage control. The green turf that they are dressing up the hills with, they hope, will fool the CEC or convince it into thinking that the companies have undertaken environmental protection measures.

Besides the turf, massive green sheets of polythene are being used to cover the hill sides, in a ludicrous display of false eco-consciousness. Many mining companies have become suddenly environmental conscious. Freshly painted boards with preachy slogans about protecting the planet are being hung in their offices. The display boards also speak of anti-pollution measures and the socially sensitive “activities” such as free health check-up camps undertaken by them, in order to convince the CEC that their social concern was not born on the eve of its visit.

Officers of the district administration, including Deputy Commissioner Vipul Bansal and Deputy Conservator of Forests Srinivasulu visited the mining sites to make arrangements for the CEC trip.

But the mining companies’ “green dressing spree” has left the residents fuming more than ever. The denuding of the grass in Bheemasamudra tank for dressing up the hills threatens to starve their cattle, they say.

For the miners, the intermittent showers over the past few days have come as a life saver. The rain has damped down the dust somewhat, to the immense relief of the companies.

The purpose of the CEC’s visit to the district on Sunday and Monday is to assess the impact of mining on environment. Iron and manganese ore are extracted in Chitradurga, Hosadurga and Holalkere taluks of the district. The Mines and Geology Department has seized over three lakh tonnes of ore worth Rs 28.49 crore over the past three years.

The Supreme Court had directed the CEC to conduct a survey in Chitradurga and Tumkur districts to assess the environmental impact on account of mining. Based on the CEC report, the Supreme Court would decide whether to ban mining in the district or not. The CEC team will visit Tumkur on Tuesday and Wednesday. The CEC team is likely to be led by Chairman P V Jayakrishnan and member secretary M K Jiwrajka.

The Committee has already submitted a series of reports on illegal mining in Bellary. Following the reports, the apex court has ordered a ban on mining activities in Bellary till a comprehensive environment impact assessment has been completed.

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