Madikeri: Rampant illegal mining of precious stones has been reported from the Subramanya Range Forest of Dakshina Kannada, Koojimalai and Suttathmalai of Kodagu district where smugglers are unearthing gemstones hoodwinking the Forest Department. These precious stones are extracted from the forests with the help of locals and are sold at a premium to luxury hotels, jewellery shops, and spas and massage parlours.
There is an organised gang that smuggles the stones from Chikkamagalur, Charmadi Ghat, Bisile Ghat Koojimalai, Pushpagiri and Kudusalu Reserve Forest ranges. Smugglers convince the locals and villagers to mine the precious stones after promising them a percentage in the deal.
The stones include corundum and rubies. It may be mentioned here that along with Chikkamagalur, the pristine forests of Kodagu, especially the Pushpagiri-Kadamakallu Range that borders Subramanya Forest, are constantly targeted by illegal miners. The latest places to be targeted by smugglers are the pristine forests of Suttathmalai, Uppukala near Balugodu.
The stones earlier used to fetch a price of Rs. 500 to Rs. 700 per kg, now costs over 20,000 to Rs. 25,000 per kg, making it a lucrative deal for smugglers. The illegal trade was first reported in the 1990s at Subramanya Forest Range and Pushpagiri Ranges. Gradually, the trade spread to Madikeri and Bhagamandala ranges.
Though mining activity takes place round the year under the very nose of Forest Officials, the activity picks up pace during the rainy season as the drenched soil on the hills provide ideal conditions for digging and extracting the stones. The excavation on the hills is usually done at night, and over the years, local villagers and agents, who eke out a living in carrying out digging, have acquired expertise in mountaineering.
Surprisingly, some villagers living in the border areas of forests indulge in this trade along with workers who migrate to Kodagu from Kerala to work in rubber estates. These workers are hired annually by rubber estates and thousands of workers come to northern part of Kodagu to work in the estates. These workers come in contact with the smugglers and agree to venture into the forests and mine stones for a fat commission.
Once the stones are extracted, criminals polish them and market them to massage parlours, five star hotels and spas. Once polished, the texture and appearance of the stones change and they look similar to precious gemstones.
Jewellery shops too purchase these precious stones and they are sold with actual precious stones. The stones, in different colours, are used in ‘hot stone massage’, ‘aroma therapy’ and the quality is decided on the stones texture after polishing.