The Western Ghats may have made it to the World Heritage Site list, but a recent report by a state body has revealed how illegal mining poses a threat to the mountain chain’s fragile ecosystem.
The Directorate of Geology and Mining, Nagpur, has submitted a report to the government alleging that Mines and Metals Private Ltd, operators of Kalane mines in Dodamarg taluka of the coastal Konkan region’s Sindhudurg district, have been illegally extracting iron ore from a 4.89-hectare area outside the area leased to them. The estimated iron ore reserve in the area is 9.34 lakh metric tonnes.
Kalane mines falls in the Western Ghats and is part of the Sawantwadi-Dodamarg wildlife corridor. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has formed a three-member panel, headed by additional chief secretary, revenue department, to probe the matter, Sachin Ahir, minister of state, mines and environment, said. Other members are principal secretary, industries department, and DGM director VS Savakhande.
The state is also planning to issue a show-cause notice to the company seeking a reply to the allegations.
Vinay Patil, son of former Congress minister Rohidas Patil is a stakeholder in Kalane mines, which was granted a 20-year lease in 2009 for mining in a 32.25 hectare area.
“We deny all the allegations made in the report and will clear our stand in the reply to the government. We are extracting 7.50 lakh metric tonnes every financial year, as allowed by the environmental clearance,” Vinay Patil said.
Hindustan Times has consistently reported on illegal mining. In a series of reports, the paper revealed that half the mines in Goa were illegal and that illegal mining had cost the state Rs 3,000 crore.
The DGM inspection report, submitted in May, is the second one prepared by it.
After a Sawantwadi resident, Deepak Kesharkar, filed a complaint with the Dodamarg tehsildar in November 2011, alleging that the mining firm was encroaching on land outside its lease limits, the Directorate’s Kolhapur team prepared the first report in January this year.
To verify the preliminary report, in May, a DGM team from Nagpur used satellite imagery and Google Earth maps to study the area which has been allegedly mined illegally.
The report states: “Illegal mining seems to have been carried out on a 4.89 ha area in Survey no. 57/3 and 57/4 outside the lease boundary. Earlier exploration and studies show that the area mined outside the lease boundary has an estimated iron ore reserved of 9.34lakh metric tonnes, and that a considerable part of this reserve might have been extracted.”
The report adds that during the site visit, the team led by Savakhande also saw fresh digging outside the lease area. “We drilled bores into the disputed area and also used studies done in the 1980s to determine the reserves of iron ore,” Savakhande said.
On July 9, the CM quoted the report’s findings in the State Assembly in response to a starred question by BJP MLA from Sindhudurg, Pramod Jathar.
Despite repeated calls and text messages, Sindhudurg collector Virendra Singh did not respond.
A 2011 report submitted by the Madhav Gadgil committee that studied the impact of development projects in the Western Ghats had also criticised Kalane mines.
“The Gram Panchayat of the village had opposed the mining unequivocally during the public hearing held in August 2008. Mining overburden often ends up on the fields damaging the crops,” the report had stated.