Don't allow mining in Kappatagudda

The controversy and the agitation over the removal of ‘conservation reserve’ forest status given to Kappatagudda in Gadag district of Karnataka is a classic case of private interests trying to trump larger public interest of the state and the sentiments of the people.

Environmentalists and the local people led by Sri Siddalinga Swami of Thontadarya Mutt have launched a series of agitations demanding that the state government restore the conservation reserve tag given to an area of 17,872 hectares of the Kappatagudda forests that had been clandestinely withdrawn last year. Prior to the meeting of the semi-autonomous State Board of Wildlife (SBW), Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had given a clear indication that he would take a ‘favourable’ decision after due consultation. But a powerful mining company, which has begun prospecting for gold in the area, and apparently, having the backing of a section of senior IAS officers, made sure that enough doubts were created in the mind of the chief minister so that the decision was postponed.

It appears that the mining company was given permission in 2008 to conduct an assessment of mineral deposit, which included digging and testing of soil, but at the SBW meeting, it seems that neither the Forest Department officials nor other bureaucrats could produce the order, leaving the chief minister to play safe about legal consequences of cancellation of the permit. Besides, the reserve status given in 2015 had been withdrawn in 2016 after the mining lobby complained that the order was not preceded by public consultation as required by the law. Subsequently, during the public hearing in January 2017, 249 applications were received, of which 217 were in favour of restoring the status and only 32 against on the grounds that extraction of gold would be affected.

The Karnataka High Court, meanwhile, stayed the issuing of final notification on the basis of a PIL filed by “some residents of Gadag” who reportedly questioned the validity of public consultation process. The case has taken an intriguing turn with some petitioners subsequently claiming that their signatures had been fraudulently obtained by
promising land in their names.

No sensible government should yield to such shenanigans of companies ready to stoop to any level to maximise their profits. Conservationists have warned that permitting mining and extraction work would lead to arsenic poison and pollution of water bodies in the ecologically fragile Kappatagudda, which is known to be home to a variety of medicinal plants and aromatic herbs. Siddaramaiah should direct his legal team to approach the high court immediately to vacate its stay on the notification. The government should also seriously pursue the long-delayed project of preservation of medicinal plants in the area, which will be of immense benefit to the state.

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