After nearly a decade-long legal battle, wildlife conservationists from Chikkamagaluru won a permanent injunction against illegal open-cast mining in the delicate and eco-sensitive shola forest of Kemmangundi.
Dismissing the appeal filed by the Visvesvaraya Iron and Steel Ltd (VISL) company at Bhadravati, the Chikkamagaluru Additional District Court upheld the 2012 additional senior civil judge order for a permanent injunction and reiterated that under the guise of transporting the iron ore fines, VISL had been carrying out illegal mining activity without any licence or lease for two decades.
In 2007, the Karnataka Government had permitted VISL to collect one lakh tonne iron fines and dumps from Kemmangundi only for three months.
Wildcat-C (a wildlife conservation action team from Chikkamagaluru) immediately filed a petition in the district court to put an end to any kind of mining activity including transportation, in Kemmangundi, as it
was not only disturbing the habitat of Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary with its streams and rivers but also affecting the tiger population.
After five years of hearing, in 2012, the Additional Court gave a permanent injunction and directed VISL to stop mining and any mining-related activities in Kemmangundi area.
However, the company went in appeal against the injunction in the same year.
Upholding the 2012 order given by the trial judge, judge K S Thimmannachar on March 2, 2016 noted that as per the oral and documentary evidence, VISL had no grounds to challenge the order.
He also observed, “Considering the sensitiveness of the area, the transportation of iron ore fines had not only caused ecological imbalance but also disturbed the wildlife and its movement. Further, VISL’s attempts to get mining licence clearly indicates that under the guise of transportation, they wanted to indulge in mining activities and cause environmental imbalance.”
Welcoming the order, Wildcat-C, Nature Conservation Guild, Bhadra Wildlife Conservation Trust, former Wildlife Board member Girijashankar and others said it is a great victory. Wildlife conservationist G Veeresh added, “This is a historic judgment and will save the ecologically fragile habitat including the tiger reserve from such illegal activities.”The Illegal period
The Illegal period
The court observed that the VISL’s mining activity at Kemmangundi till 1983 was legal, however, anything after this period, is illegal. The company obtained the first lease for mining in 1923, which expired in 1953. The second lease for mining was obtained in 1963 which expired in 1983. However, from 1983-2004, VISL quietly carried out mining activity by leasing it to sub-contractors, which was illegal as the company had failed to produce any lease documents.
good Business for Local Contractors
The company sub-leased to local contractors who exported iron ore to many countries making huge profits. In the guise of transportation of old dumps, they illegally carried out surface mining. If they paid a royalty of `3-4 for collection of one tonne of iron ore fines to the government, they exported the ore at the rate of `3,000-4,000 per tonne.