Wildlife activists in the state have sought for an immediate halt on Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited (KIOCL) attempts to create rights over demised mining lease area within the limits of the Kudremukh National Park.
With the company calling for an open tender to set up an eco-tourism and medical tourism centres at Kudremukh and thereby, sub-lease an unspecified area, they say this move is illegal as the apex court had rejected its appeal for developing any infrastructure for eco-tourism.
According to Wildlife First, a conservation advocacy organisation, this is a matter of serious concern as KIOCL is attempting to create rights over government land in the demised mining lease area.
This is in spite of the fact that the lease cannot be renewed. Further, the Supreme Court on September 2, 2013, had directed the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to file a report on the status of winding up of the activities of KIOCL.
KIOCL which has a full fledged township at Kudremukh (that was utilised for its employees till date) is planning to lease it to develop it as a tourism centre.
The company claims: “Due to the closure of Kudremukh mines and subsequent transfer of manpower to other locations, the Kudremukh township is presently not fully utilised. Therefore, the existing township can be developed and operated as a tourist destination.”
According to the Expression of Interest (EOI) floated by KIOCL on April 7, 2014, there are also facilities like hospital and residential quarters that are not being fully utilised, therefore, they are hoping to lease out the existing health care infrastructure and hospital facilities to set up infrastructure for medical tourism services. The last date for submission of EOI is May 20.Praveen Bhargava, trustee, Wildlife First, said: “In fact, the non-implementation of the directions of the Supreme Court has emboldened KIOCL to float such an EOI to sub-lease government land.
This, we believe, is impermissible under law and the prevailing orders of the Court. Without an official clarification from the government, unsuspecting entrepreneurs may get embroiled in litigation apart from such activities posing a serious threat to Kudremukh National Park.”
Veteran conservationist and tiger defender from Chikmagalur said: “The company has no right and they should get out of here as they have done enough of damage to this pristine habitat. They should hand over everything and even the township that they are talking about is on government land and how can they sub-lease it? With 18 cases foisted against us in ten years, we have fought to save this and we won’t allow this to happen once again.”
The Wildlife First, which was the petitioner in this case before the apex court (and that finally lead to the closure of Kudremukh mines in 2005) in a statement said: “The demised mining lease area of 3,203.55 hectare area (plus the 500 ha Lakya encroachment outside the lease area) is now a fully notified National Park and 1,401 ha enclosure within the National Park area is a deemed eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) as per directions of the Court and the guidelines issued by the Environment Ministry. The said area falls within the Western Ghats Eco-Sensitive Area as identified by the High Level Working Group and notified by the Ministry on March 10, 2014 which prohibits any township development project of 50 hectares and above.”
Speaking to Express, PCCF (wildlife) Vinay Luthra said the company had not approached them for any clearances.
However, a decision in this regard is yet to be taken by the state government.