Will illegal mining come to an end in Mandya district?
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Will illegal mining come to an end in Mandya district?

July 13, 2021

By M.K. Mohanraj

Mandya: Even as Mandya becomes a hotbed of mining politics with no holds barred spats between Independent Mandya MP Sumalatha Ambarish, wife of late actor Ambarish and JD(S) leader and former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy over the past several days, the people of Mandya are wondering whether MP Sumalatha, who has promised to stop illegal mining activities that has been going on for years, will keep up her promise.

Though Mandya district has hundreds of stone quarrying, crushing and mining units, hardly over a hundred of them are said to be legal, while the rest are said to be illegal with no Governmental sanction. Quarrying and mining is rampant in western part of Mandya district comprising Srirangapatna, Pandavapura, K.R. Pet and Nagamangala taluks.

But illegal quarrying is all the more rampant in Srirangapatna and Pandavapura taluks, which fact is reportedly acknowledged by officials from the Mines and Geology Department.

MP Sumalatha visits quarrying sites

With reports of illegal quarrying going on unabated, MP Sumalatha too visited some of the quarrying sites in the vicinity of KRS Dam to ascertain facts, which has led to the political slugfest between the MP and JD(S) Legislators and leaders.

Raids on illegal quarrying units

Though officials from the Mines and Geology and Police Departments often raid illegal quarrying units, particularly those in the vicinity of KRS Dam, quarry operators seem to be little caring for the raids. 

Even if officials seal the premises of illegal quarrying or mining sites and also seize equipment and vehicles used for mining, the operators, who keep quiet for some time, resume their activities later. 

Though the Police and other authorities carry out regular beats during day time to keep a watch on illegal  quarrying activities, the owners operate most of the times during nights, while keeping silent during the day.

The efforts of the authorities and Police to stop illegal mining in Srirangapatna, Nagamangala and Pandavapura taluks have met with little success, as quarry operators allegedly have a strong  backing of politicians.

After having failed in all their efforts to end illegal quarrying, some of the officials have often chosen to stay aloof from the operations.

Amidst all this, a concerning incident where miscreants tried to run over a Police official during a raid on an illegal quarry unit in Nagamangala taluk a couple of years ago has taken place. 

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Permission with restrictions 

There is permission to carry out legal quarrying and mining in the district with certain restrictions in place. Accordingly, quarrying should not be carried out in the vicinity of educational institutions, houses, places of worship, along rivers and major water bodies etc. But illegal stone quarrying especially in Ragimuddanahalli, Kodishettypura, Hangarahalli and Channanakere in Srirangapatna taluk and Bebibetta in Pandavapura taluk is reportedly going on unabated, causing cracks in houses located close to the quarrying sites. 

Apart from damage to houses and other structures in the vicinity, the quarrying has polluted water bodies. Also, illegal quarrying has seen ground water levels drop to new lows in the absence of seasonal rains. The quarrying has destroyed a number of stony hills and hill ranges in taluks of the district too. This apart, frequent sounds of blasting that emerge from quarrying units has often been a cause of scare for children studying in nearby schools.

KRS Dam safety

Although there is no immediate threat to the safety and stability of KRS Dam in Srirangapatna taluk as of now, the Dam remains susceptible to cracks in the long run if wanton quarrying continues unabated.

The residents of villages which are affected by quarrying units have been demanding an end to illegal quarrying for long. 

Following persistent demands, a team from Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre visited the KRS Dam site and also the areas around the Dam, following which it submitted a report that illegal quarrying in the vicinity poses a threat to the stability of the Dam.

Subsequent to the report, mining was stopped. But after a few days, quarrying and crusher units again started operating, much to the dismay of villagers.

‘Ban would affect livelihood of daily wagers’

Meanwhile, mining and quarry owners argue that complete stopping of operations will hurt thousands of daily wagers, who eke out a livelihood by working in these units. But the fact is that manual labour has been reduced by over a half as quarry owners are using explosives to blast rocks instead of involving manual labour. 

Also, most of the labourers working in these units are not locals, but are from  Northern States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. 

READ ALSO  KRS water level rises by 2 feet

This apart, most of the mining activities are being done with the help of tractors, tippers, lorries, earth-moving machines and other quarry machineries.

Sounds of blasting affect children, elderly

There were not much problems when stones were cut involving manual labour with permitted gelatin sticks that used to take place earlier. But with advancements in mining, quarry owners have resorted to rig bore blasting for making jelly, size and crusher stones, M-Sand  etc. 

The techniques and methods used in rig bore blasting has caused problems, according to villagers, who alleged that deep rig bore blasting running up to 50 ft underground has caused cracks and other damages to houses and other structures.

But following numerous complaints about children, women and the aged getting scared over the sounds of blasting, quarry owners resorted to megger-enabled blasting. Though quarry owners claim that they have stopped rig bore blasting and adopted the much safer megger-enabled blasting, there are complaints that deep rig bore blasting was taking place even now. 

Payment of Royalty

In another loss to the Government, there are rampant complaints that most of the quarry owners, who have encroached upon lands adjacent to their units, have been cheating the Government on payment of Royalty. 

The locals have urged the Mines and Geology Department authorities to correctly assess the extent of mining of each quarrying unit and collect the right amount of Royalty from them and also put a brake on illegal  mining activities.

Will MP keep up her promise?

Meanwhile, all eyes are on Mandya MP Sumalatha, who has promised to end all illegal quarrying in the district once and for all. The quarrying and mining lobby is said to have extensive political support and the villagers are wondering will Sumalatha succeed by overcoming all lobbies and political clout that the mining mafia has.

Although the MP has started with a promising note focussing on the safety and stability of KRS Dam and also saving the rocky hills from getting extinct, only time can tell to what extent the  MP will succeed in her efforts and struggle to put an end  to the quarrying mafia that has been ruling the district for long.

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