Having got the sobriquet “Land of Gold”, Kolar is synonymous with the world famous Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) mines, later rechristened as Bharat Gold Mines Ltd (BGML) after its takeover by Government of India. Revival of the now defunct BGML has defined the politics of KGF and Bangarpet assembly constituencies and Kolar Lok Sabha constituency for about three decades, but not any more.
The promise and politics of reviving BGML over the past 30 years propped up the political careers of veteran Congress leader and MP K H Muniyappa, Bhaktavatsalam, Rajendran, and others. Muniswamy and Shanmugam, former employees of BGML, say they are fed up with the promises and have realised that it is impossible to revive BGML and want to move on. It is no more an election issue, they say, adding that they are concerned about the rehabilitation of those hit by the closure of BGML and overall development of the region.
Running a tea shop near Marikuppam Railway Station in KGF, Muniswamy is still waiting for his final settlement from BGML after it was closed in 2001. The gold mine — which had about 30,000 employed at its peak — had about 3,800 employees when it was closed. The economy of KFG and Bangarpet was almost entirely dependent on BGML, recalls Muniswamy.
While 12,000 families living in BGML Township have been promised title deeds for their houses as a parting gift by the government, failure to deliver it so far is the major demand of the voters here in this election, and not the revival of BGML, says Das Chinnasavari, former engineer of BGML and now the convenor of KGF Citizens Protection Forum.
“The employees who lost their jobs owing to the closure of the mine are yet to get their settlement arrears adding up to `52 crore. It is almost two decades and hopes are dying. Thousands of these families are now living of the earning of their children who are employed in Bengaluru. Though vast lands of the defunct BGML, well qualified work force and good infrastructure in the form of the nearby Kempegowda International Airport, proximity to Chennai port and good rail and road connectivity are available, the political leadership over the years has failed to capitalise on that,” rues Chinnasavari.
The constituency is seeing a close fight between Roopakala Shashidhar, daughter of MP K H Muniyappa (Congress), Ashwini, daughter of former MLA Sampangi (BJP) and Bhaktavatsalam of JD(S). Former MLA from RPI Rajendran too is trying to make a come back.
The reported interest-free loans disbursed through the District Cooperative Bank to thousands of people by Roopkala has raised a buzz and is being seen as a move which could help her in the poll battle, opines Chinnasavari. “I, too, am one of those who has availed the loan,” adds D Jacob, another retired employee of BGML.
The lifeline with Bengaluru
With the closure of BGML, the rail track that connects Bangarpet and KGF with Bengaluru has turned out to be the lifeline of the region with almost the entire working population of the area commuting between Bangarpet and Bengaluru on a daily basis.
“More than 20,000 people commute in rails between Bangarpet and Bengaluru and another 10,000 in buses. The high rent in Bengaluru and the fact that we all have our homes gifted by BGML here — which we cannot give up — has left us with no choice,” explains D Jacob, whose three sons are among the thousands who commute to Bengaluru for work daily.
The entire region erupted in protest recently when the number of coaches attached to Suvarna Express was reduced. “We want our election candidates to fight for our cause in the assembly and bring small and medium industries to KGF so that our children are spared the ordeal of daily commute to Bengaluru,” says Muniswamy. It is a demand that is heard from almost every voter here.