Kalne village in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district is trapped between wild elephants and mining giants.
Elephants damage the crops. Mining has eaten into the mountain range. “The silt and dust are affecting our health and our plantations and will change the direction of Kalne river forever, leaving us without water,” said Satish Ghotge (50), a secondary schoolteacher. “It has become a battle for our survival.”
Environmentalists say Kalne, which is near the Karnataka border, is an eco-sensitive zone which mining is destroying.
“Mining has destroyed the elephant habitat in Karnataka forcing the animals to move to south Maharashtra,” said Jayendra Parulekar, an environmentalist with the Save Western Ghats Group. “These villages are a part of the elephant migratory corridor and mining projects should not have been allowed here.”
It began one March morning, when villagers found workers of a mining company building a road to a mine, reportedly cutting through villagers’ land.
Villagers in Kalne have been fighting with the government since last year after it sanctioned an open cast mining project by leasing out a mountain range near the village.
The project will extract an estimated 5.4 million tonne of iron and manganese ore from under the Sahyadri range, which has been declared as one of the world’s 25 richest and most threatened biodiversity spots.
“Every day hundreds of trucks and construction material gnaw at the mountain,” said villager Ajit Ghotge (60). “We have approached everyone from politicians to officials.”
The sarpanch and deputy sarpanch, both women, are leading the fight against mining. “We have collected Rs 2 lakh to sustain our battle. It will be a fight to the finish,” says Sunita Bhise (38), the village sarpanch (head). Her husband was recently arrested for taking up the fight.
Villagers claim politicians stabbed them in the back. Before the election code of conduct was enforced, Environment Minister Ganesh Naik ordered a stay on mining and asked for a review of the project.
“Twelve days later, a team of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board submitted a report stating that a review had been done and that the project can go ahead despite regulations that a mining project cannot be undertaken 5 km from a water source,” said Vaishali Patil, a social worker. “It was all a gimmick for the elections.” Naik refused to comment.