Silence and memories reign at Kudremukh

Wasting away: The equipment at the Kudremukh Iron Ore Corporation Limited, Kudremukh in Chikmagalur district, remain unused. (Right) The waters in Lakhya Dam is full of silt. DH photosAs you enter the Kudremukh Iron Ore Limited (KIOCL) plant in Kudremukh, about 110 km from Mangalore, the contrast strikes you. Palpable is the silence and puzzling is the board that reads: “High noise zone: Wear ear muffs.”

The board is a relic from the past when it was simply impossible to enter the area without your ears being assaulted by hellish noise of the machines. But no longer. The machines stand mute, like from the Cretaceous period. More than five years after the mini-rathna was closed down (on December 31, 2005) following a Supreme Court order, silence prevails in the Kudremukh valley.

The machines which once roared and shook the green hills are lying idle, awaiting a potential buyer. A global tender invited some time ago did not yield any results. A visit to KIOCL plant organised by the Dakshina Kannada District Information Department revealed that not one or two, but tens and hundreds of huge machines, mostly imported from Canada in 1976, are gathering dust.

They include eight massive shovels (each of which can take out 32 tonnes of ore in a single scoop) each costing more than Rs 25 crore (at present market value), 30 dumpers (trucks) each with a whopping 120 tonne capacity, five drills (with 58 feet depth and 12.25 dia), six track dozers (the tyre diameter is nine feet!), fove rubber tyre dozers, five front end loaders, four motor graders and seven huge water sprinklers (dumpers), to mention a few.

Speaking to media persons, KIOCL General Manager V Bobraj Jeyaharan said the firm requires a minimum of Rs 48 crore a year to maintain the equipment (that includes salaries of CISF and other staff maintaining the plant). “Almost everyday, the employees start the machines so that they are kept in good condition.” The number of employees has been reduced to 357 from 1,260.

Stating that there are 23.2 million tonnes of weathered ore lying in Kudremukh (former mining area), he said a slight slide in the region may cause disaster as the ore will pollute Bhadra, a source of water and irrigation in many areas.

“The Ministry of Steel filed a review petition before the Supreme Court six months ago. We are hopeful of getting a nod, as all KIOCL needs is a permission to transport the weatherd (mined) ore.” He added some stability has to be done before there is any catastrophe.

Plans are also on the anvil to set up a Joint Venture to set up a steel plant somewhere near Hospet. “We sought permission from the government in Block No 13 in Ramanadurga,” he said and added that if that comes through, then the KIOCL can sustain for another 20 years.

To a query on the large number of empty houses/quarters in KIOCL township, he said there are plans to go for eco-tourism with the help of Jungle Lodges. To another query, he said KIOCL is ready to give land, if the State wants to set up a commando training centre.

Bricks, tiles from silt!

The 100-metre Lakhya dam, constructed to collect silt, has about 90-metre silt amounting to about 187 million tonnes. Scientists from IISc recently took samples and constructed a small building using 40 per cent silt mixed with 60 per cent sand. “The results are encouraging,” Jeyaharan said, “Strong bricks and tiles can be made using the silt containing silica.”

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