23 January 2009

Ore Mining, Tiruvannamalai District

A newspaper report today stated that:

“Thousands of farmers in 10 villages around Kavuthi Malai and Vediappan Malai in Tiruvannamalai District are determined not to let the government give the go-ahead for the proposal for mining of iron ore in the hills. They are not ready to lose their idyllic lifestyle and be uprooted from the land to which they have a cultural mooring. “One needs to know the significance of the hills and its role in shaping the lives of the farmers to understand our anger’, says a farmer from Andiyur. “Vediappan (after whom one of the hills is named) is our ‘kuladeivam’ (family deity).”

The collective anger was palpable when over 1,000 villagers attended the public hearing conducted by the District Administration on December 27th last, to elicit the local community’s views on the proposal for mining in 325 hectares of forestland (a hectare is 2.27 acres). “These two hills have provided us the sustenance when the rest of the District was reeling under famine,” says a resident of Ponakkadu. ‘During droughts, we collect ‘kolakattis’ (stone pounded to make kolam powder) from the hills and sell them in Thiruvannamalai town’ say a group of farmers.

In the District that does not have a perennial river, it is the water from the hills that is harnessed by farmers for irrigation and domestic use. “All irrigation ponds in the 10 villages are at the foot of these hills and they serve as catchment areas, helping us to cultivate cash crops like kanagambaram, marigold, jathimalli and other flowers, besides two crops of paddy a year,’ says a panchayat official. A government officer at the collectorate confirms it, saying that water supply from the Sathanur dam is only for 90 days a year.

The effects of iron ore mining

Stating that a farmer cultivating 50 acres of land makes, on an average, Rs 1.20 lakh, an official from Periyapalayapattu village panchayat, asks: Do you want us to give up all this and migrate to some parched land elsewhere and suffer? The hills, with expansive grazing space, also provide fodder for the cattle and the forests are a source for firewood. “Women in Andiyur village sustain themselves by collecting firewood from Kavuthi Malai and selling a bundle for Rs 150,” says a woman of the village. The government officer also fears that Thiruvannamalai would turn into a desert if miners use water from Sathanur dam.”

Map of iron ore mining India

Well and good if thousands of understandably irate farmers are able to prevent ore mining in the Tiruvannamalai Hills. However, one wonders how the situation has been allowed to come to this point particularly as Tiruvannamalai is a famous pilgrimage spot, developing tourist area and currently involved in huge reforestation programmes that are financed by foreign countries and domestic and overseas NGOs.

JWS Steel plans to tap 41.78 percent low-grade magnetite quartz ore by putting up mining facilities and beneficiation and pelletization plants. One million tonnes of iron ore will be tapped per annum after ‘clearing’ 2.20 lakh trees of 15 girths.

This apart, lakhs of other trees, including those grown under a Japanese government-funded project in the last four years, would be felled, a forest official said. The forest is home for indigenous flora and fauna and endangered species like Monitor Lizard, Pangolin, Deer and Porcupine, he added.

Since the mining involves drilling and blasting, as mentioned in the Rapid Environment Impact Assessment (REIA) report, it would cause air and water pollution too. Though the report specifies pollution abatement measures, it is impossible to prevent the iron ore dust from polluting the air in a minimum of eight-km radius, posing a threat to the Girivalam around the Thiruvannamalai hills, said an officer at the Collectorate. He added that tippers would be used to transport the pelletization materials, disrupting the tranquility of the hills.

The project would bring no jobs for the locals but would displace lakhs of farmers in the 10 villages around the two hills, said an environment activist.”

I recently visited an area about 10 miles south of the Hill which is being heavily mined for granite – it was not a pretty site as surrounding farms are gray from granite dust and the pretty rustic area is severely scarred by granite extraction. Iron ore mining is far more intrusive – the whole situation beggars belief and makes one wonder, ‘What are they thinking?’

As well as the hazards and consequences of ‘authorized’ iron ore mining, places such as Goa also suffer from illegal iron ore activity:

“. . .connivance of forest and mines departments in allowing such illegal extraction accused forest department officials of protecting illegal mines in the reserve forests and wild life sanctuaries of the State.”

Lets hope the farmers and activists win – otherwise the area has a dusty and ‘dry’ future to look forward to!


Anonymous said...

I would mention that the main concern of most of the farmers is the value of their land. This is a completely valid concern and hope it motivates them into proper action. Certainly the idea of owning land which is worth a fortune to be all of sudden reduced to a mere pittance must be gut-wrenching.

Unknown said...

Allowing iron ore mining is just doing injustice to the common people. Let's protect the common people and save our mother nature from greedy people. Let's be united for welfare of the society and save our future generation.