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Mining in Dodamarg-Sawantwadi wildlife area leading to landslides: Mumbai activists

The site of the mining ops and landslides lie squarely in the middle of the Dodamarg-Sawantwadi wildlife corridor, which was declared as an eco-sensitive area by HC
By Prayag Arora-Desai
PUBLISHED ON JUL 31, 2021 12:38 AM IST
The physical boundaries of the eco-sensitive area are yet to be demarcated by the Maharashtra government, allowing non-forestry activities to continue. (HT FILE)

Following two landslides this week in Sindhudurg district’s Kalne and Galel villages in Dodamarg and Banda talukas, a Mumbai-based environment group wrote to the chief minister (CM) and the environment department, highlighting the likelihood of iron-ore mining having triggered the incidents.

The site of the mining operations and the landslides lie squarely in the middle of the Dodamarg-Sawantwadi wildlife corridor, which was declared as an ecologically sensitive area (ESA) by the Bombay high court. However, the physical boundaries of the ESA are yet to be demarcated by the Maharashtra government, allowing non-forestry activities to continue.

“Yesterday, a massive landslide occurred at Kalne, where the mining operations are being carried out. This mine in Dodamarg is in the middle of a crucial wildlife corridor of the Western Ghats connecting Andhi Dandeli/Bhimgad with Radhanagiri Widlife Sanctuary. Tens of thousands of trees have been felled and mining done even after the water table has been hit. We had intimated this illegality and objected to the granting of consent to operate to the mine vide our email dated May 30, 2020. However, our complaint was not taken note of. Today, not only have the forests been destroyed, but people’s lives have been impacted. Thousands of tonnes of mud/mining silt have entered the homes of the villagers of Kalne, and the Kalne river, too, is polluted with mining residue,” wrote Stalin D, director, NGO (non-governmental organisation) Vanashakti, in his letter to CM, on Thursday.

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Through successive orders over the past decade, HC in 2012 and 2013, based on Awaaz Foundation’s 2011 petition, had directed the Union environment ministry and the Maharashtra government to ensure that the 38 km-long and 10 km-wide corridor in Sindhudurg district be protected as an eco-sensitive area (ESA) where environmentally destructive activities are prohibited. HC had reiterated its order in 2018, based on a 2016 petition by Vanashakti, declaring the belt a ‘no tree felling zone’.

However, the Kolhapur regional office of the state pollution control board in 2019 renewed an iron ore mining licence at Kalne village in the Dodamarg-Sawantwadi belt in 2019, allowing operations to handle 750,000 metric tonnes of iron ore per annum till March 31, across 32.25-hectare area at Kalne. The pollution control board had said mining operations were first issued permissions in 2009, much before the petition to protect the area had been filed, and renewing such consent is permissible for any proposed ecologically sensitive area as well.

In April, Vanashakti had written to the environment department highlighting the long delay in demarcating the corridor’s boundaries. “The [HC] order is almost eight years old. Nothing stops the government from demarcating the corridor. A study of the flora and fauna in the 21 villages of the corridor is already with the state forest department. There is simply no plausible reason for the delay,” Stalin D wrote at the time.

CM has requested the environment department to take appropriate action in the matter. An official with the environment department, seeking anonymity of name, confirmed that they are in receipt of Vanashakti’s petition.

“But it requires clarification that there is nothing illegal about the mining work in Kalne, as alleged. The consent to operate is granted after due scrutiny. The connection between the mining and the landslide cannot be established without a study on the same,” the official said.

Environmentalists, however, maintained that the renewal of consent to the mining operation in Kalne is in direct conflict with the Bombay HC’s order calling for the area to be protected.

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