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Escalating Ecocide in the Kudremukh National Park

Chapter III
Extracts from CES Report
The Government of India, vide letter dated 16.7.1999, accorded extension of the mining lease for a period of one year from July 1999 to July 2000 and had interalia directed the State Government to initiate studies on the impact of mining of flora and fauna in this area by reputed wildlife Institute.
The centre for ecological studies of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore was entrusted with this task. They have since come out with their findings in their rapid assessment in January 2001.
We are reproducing extracts of the report titled Impact of Iron ORE MINING ON THE FLORA AND FAUNA OF KUDREMUKH NATIONAL PARK AND ENVIRONS A RAPID ASSESSMENT as under :
1. The Kudremukh National Park (Karnataka), named after the prominent peak of 1892 m above sea level in the Western Ghats chain of peninsular India, covers an area of 600 km across the high rainfall areas along the western slopes and the mid-elevation plateaus and hills. It is the largest declared Protected Area of a tropical wet evergreen type of forest in Karnataka.
2. The Western Ghats have been identified as one of the 18 hot spots of global biodiversity. They are also part of the Global 200 regions identified by World Wildlife Fund for concentrating conservation efforts. Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, have also a special research and conservation programme for the Western Ghats.
3. The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden, Karnataka, approached the Indian Institute of Science, vide letter dated 14-09-1999, to carry out studies on impact of mining on flora and fauna of Kudremukh National Park, as desired by the Government of India because the lease to KIOCL for mining operations has expired and a decision had to be taken for renewal. Accordingly, the study was initiated in early August 2000.
4. The mining project site is situated in a high rainfall area with an annual rainfall averaging about 6500 mm, most of which occurs during the monsoon months of June to September. This region is also the catchment for three major rivers of Karnataka, the Bhadra, the Tunga and the Nethravati.
5. Water quality of surface water was analysed during the post-monsoon period by selecting several samples (about 25 in number) at suitable locations in the river Bhadra flowing through the mine leased area and nallahs and streams which are tributaries to Bhadra, during the post-monsoon period. It was observed that concentrations of the inorganic parameters including Iron in the surface water at all the locations, during the post-monsoon months of Oct-Nov 2000, are below the maximum limits specified in the standards (Indian Standard for Drinking Water: BIS 10500 - 1991) for drinking water. The dissolved oxygen and pH are found to be acceptable. The dissolved Iron (Fe) which is the main constituent of the ore deposit in the mining area is also found to be within the limits specified in the standards.
6. In general, it was also observed that the concentrations in the dug wells at villages downstream at all the sampled locations satisfy the maximum limits specified in the standards (BIS 10500 -1991). The dissolved Iron concentrations in these water samples at some locations exceed the limits specified in the standards. The samples collected in the bore wells show higher concentrations of Iron when compared with concentrations observed in the surface water and in dug wells, perhaps due to lower dissolved oxygen levels.
7. A earlier study by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) found that the surface waters at locations where mine discharges reach Bhadra river have concentrations in excess of the limits specified by the standards during the immediate post-monsoon season.
(Page v of the CES report)
However, even the longer term studies of NEERI extending through the monsoon period have not made any observations during the monsoon period which might be critical in terms of water quality.
8. From the data available to us on silt loads in the Bhadra river and sediments, which mostly pertains to the period after the mining started at Kudremukh, it is not possible to quantitatively assess the negative impact of mining and its significance on the Bhadra reservoir. This is an important aspect that has to be addressed through a separate, comprehensive study
9. Atmospheric dust due to the mining operations was not examined in our study as it does not seem to be a problem from the earlier studies by NEERI. KIOCL has also taken several steps to contain dust during the dry months.
10. Kudremukh National Park has high levels of plant and animal diversity, being one of the richest of similar locations in the Western Ghats. As compared to the relatively pristine habitats of Kudremukh the abandoned mine areas showed paucity or near-absence of several plant and animal groups we examined in this rapid assessment of biodiversity.
11. We compiled a list of 392 species of flowering plants during this short survey and from the literature. Quantitative sampling showed that the evergreen forests of Kudremukh National Park have high levels of flowering plant (particularly woody) diversity, comparable to or exceeding several other similarly-located sites in the Western Ghats, including the well-known Silent Valley in Kerala. The grasslands of Kudremukh too have their distinctive species composition and luxuriant growth. While several species of grasses and other herbs have come into the abandoned mine area, these are found in much lower abundance and insufficient, as yet, to stabilize the broken soil. There was no regeneration of shola forest species in the abandoned mine belt.
12. The Kudremukh region supports the largest breeding population of the Lion-tailed Macaque, a highly endangered primate that is endemic to the Western Ghats. This region is also important for the Tiger that is a highly endangered mammal in the country. Several mammals found at Kudremukh are listed in Schedule 1 of Indias Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, that confers the highest levels of protection to these species. In total, 42 species of mammals occur in the Kudremukh National Park. The abandoned mining area show only a few instances of mammals straying in.
13. Of the 169 species of birds listed for Kudremukh, 156 species were directly observed during our studies. These include several specialist birds of the evergreen forests and of the grasslands. As opposed to the occurrence of these habitat specialists of high conservation value in the more pristine areas, the region of Malleswara township and mining area showed only the presence of generalists of low conservation value such as Crow, Common Myna, House Sparrow, Ashy Drongo, etc. that show undesirable intrusion.
14. The herpetofaunal (amphibian and reptile) diversity of Kudremukh was rich with 34 species of amphibians and 54 species of reptiles observed. Many of these are again habitat specialists and endemic to the Western Ghats. The disturbed areas around mines or abandoned mine areas showed few species or a virtual absence of herpetofauna that are sensitive indicators of habitat quality.
15. About 149 species of butterflies were recorded at Kudremukh, of which 13 are endemic to the Western Ghats. Species richness was high in the evergreen forests. Nellibeedu had a distinctive butterfly community. The mining area was very poor in butterflies.
(Page vii of the CES report)
There is no evidence that mere planting of seedlings of several species in areas subject to open cast mining is going to bring these under forest cover. The first step would be to stabilize the soil through the growth of herbaceous plants and other means before attempting large scale planting. Reclamation of a hilly area in a high rainfall zone broken up by open cast mining will be an arduous task.
24. The total quantity mined in 420 ha of leased area up to Jan 1999 is 227.5 million tonnes; the waste from this concentrate has submerged around 572 ha of a shola forest valley in Lakhya Reservoir. An additional 132.7 million tonnes of iron ore is further available for mining in the already broken area as on Jan 1999. The proposal by KIOCL to build a 95 meter high earth fill dam across Kachige Holey stream (a tributary of River Bhadra) for the storage of iron ore waste tailing, will submerge an additional 210 ha of wildlife habitat in the National Park. The Kachige Holey Dam seems to be a requisite if the mining activities have to continue in the existing broken area beyond a few months or a couple of years at most, unless the waste from Lakhya Hole is removed in significant quantities for other use.
25. There is a proposal by KIOCL to mine new areas of Kudremukh National Park at Gangdikal and Nellibeedu. This will additionally directly open up 912 ha and 321ha respectively, of grasslands and shola forests, in addition to indirect effects such as constructing dams across more valleys for storing the waste. The proposed new areas for mining are almost 3 times the size of the present mined area. We strongly recommend against the opening up of any new areas within the Kudremukh National Park for iron ore mining. In particular, the opening up of Gangdikal would have a permanent effect of fragmenting the Kudremukh plateau between the northern and southern portions, plus make impacts on the Tunga river system which is at present not under the influence of mining. This would make it totally incompatible with the existence of a National Park in this biodiversity-rich region.
(page 7 of the CES report)
Hydrology and Water Quality in the Kudremukh Region
The Bhadra river flows across the leased area of the project, and a number of small nallahs and streams join the river in the vicinity of the project. The mining area is situated to the south of the Bhadra river (there are two major river valleys projects downstream of the river systems flowing through this region; these are the Bhadra reservoir at Lakkavalli and the Tungabhadra Project at Hospet. The Kudremukh Hole flows adjacent to the mining area on the eastern side, and the Kachige Hole to the west. Both these streams join the Bhadra river close to the mining area, on the south side of the river. In addition, the Singasara Hole, the Lakhya Hole, and the Kuniya Hole join the Bhadra river from the north side of the river, close to the mining area. (see Map 2.1) The hydrology of the Kudremukh region is characterised by high intensity rainfall with an annual average of about 6500 mm, and a number of small streams with steep bed-slopes.