KMERC funds elude mining-ravaged areas

Documents received under the Right to Information (RTI) Act show that a large quantity of the funds have been allocated for development works in non-mining impact zones. Activists say this defeats the purpose of the funds.
Last Updated 03 March 2024, 21:58 IST

Hubballi: The Karnataka Mining Environment Restoration Corporation (KMERC) funds are meant for the restoration of ecology and rehabilitation of people in areas affected by illegal mining. However, many of the projects approved under these funds — such as the development of Hampi Zoo, the renovation of Vijayanagara Sri Krishnadevaraya University, raising the bed capacity of Ballari Hospital and some railway projects — are in zones not impacted by mining. 

KMERC, the special purpose vehicle constituted as per the orders of the Supreme Court, has so far approved 317 projects worth Rs 7634.97 crore. Documents received under the Right to Information (RTI) Act show that a large quantity of the funds have been allocated for development works in non-mining impact zones. Activists say this defeats the purpose of the funds.

The Supreme Court order mentions that the Rs 24,996 crore approved by the Comprehensive Environment Plan for Mining Impact Zones (CEPMIZ) should be utilised only in the mining-impacted zones of Ballari, Chitradurga, Tumakuru and Vijayanagara districts.

The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) and the Indian Council of Forest Research and Education (ICFRE) recommended the Supreme Court to include 466 villages in 13 taluks of these four districts to utilise these funds.

Sandur-based activist Sreeshaila Aladahalli alleges that local elected representatives and political leaders forced the district administration to include villages not hit by mining to utilise "surplus funds". He says that while 20 mining-affected villages in Sandur taluk are reeling under a drinking water crisis, the district administration recommended supplying water to 15 wards of Ballari city, which are not directly hit by mining.

The documents show that the Oversight Authority of KMERC, based on the recommendation of the CEC, approved funds for the development of Atal Bihari Vajpayee Zoological Park (Hampi Zoo) in Kamalapur (Rs 114 cr), drinking water supply for 15 wards of Ballari (Rs 270.64 cr), renovation of 550-bed super-speciality hospital in Ballari (R 121.83 cr), railway projects near Sandur (Rs 535.77 cr), and the renovation of Vijayanagara Sri Krishnadevaraya University, Ballari (Rs 19 cr). None of the above-mentioned projects are in areas directly impacted by mining.

KMERC has approved Rs 5,271.96 cr for railway projects, Rs 2559.17 cr for road connectivity projects, Rs 1038.04 cr for rural roads, and Rs 3,467.86 cr for drinking water projects. Also, Rs 2,599.14 cr has been allocated to the forest department.

After activists raised objections over the utilisation of funds, retired Supreme Court Judge B Sudershan Reddy, who is the Oversight Authority, put drinking water projects and the super-speciality hospital in Ballari in abeyance. A decision in this regard was taken recently at the KMERC review meeting.

TR Chandrashekar, a member of the Samaj Parivartan Samudaya (SPS), which fought against illegal mining and whose writ petition resulted in the formation of KMERC, says: "By utilising the funds in non-impacted areas, the district administration is defeating the very purpose of rehabilitation."

Malliswamy, a resident of Kamatur, a village severely affected by illegal mining in Sandur taluk, says not a single paisa under KMERC has been spent in his village. "We are facing a drinking water crisis, there are no permanent doctors at the primary health centres... Instead of utilising KMERC funds in our village, the district administration has proposed to build a canal in Siruguppa taluk (not directly affected by mining)," he alleges.

Sources in the district administration say that the respective departments are preparing detailed project reports. The injunction brought by the SPS has also "forced the officials to go slow on implementing the projects, including essential projects", they say.

Vijayanagara Deputy Commissioner MS Diwakara says the villages and projects were selected and approved by the Oversight Authority based on the CEC recommendation.

Ballari DC Prashanth Kumar Mishra says, "The proposals were made in 2018 after consulting with all the stakeholders. The Supreme Court has approved the development of the affected areas on 18 parameters including education, health, skill development, animal husbandry, road connectivity, and ecological restoration. We are implementing the projects as per the rules."

He says that while the top priority of the administration is to provide facilities in affected areas, the administration cannot put all the resources in one place. "A super-speciality hospital is proposed at Sandur. However, the project has not taken off as getting human resources and other facilities at a taluk centre is difficult. A 500-bed hospital in Ballari will also benefit a patient from Sandur and other mining-affected areas," he says.

Manjunath K, General Manager of KMERC, says the corporation relies on the district administration's recommendation to select affected villages and approve projects. "There are clear guidelines on what kind of projects can be taken up in affected areas." A few of the projects were put in abeyance as they were being implemented outside the impacted areas, he adds.

Highlights - Purpose defeated KMERC funds are meant for areas ravaged by mining So far, 317 projects worth Rs 7,634 cr okayed But money being spent in zones not impacted by mining  Activists say politicians pressure dist administrations to divert 'surplus funds'.

(Published 03 March 2024, 21:58 IST)

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