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Escalating Ecocide in the Kudremukh National Park

In this study, the impact of the mining on the quality of the river water up to a distance of about 35 km downstream of the mine~ is examined. Two critical flow scenarios are relevant from point of view of water quality. One, the low flow scenario which occurs during the non-monsoon season, when the stream flows are mainly due to base flow, and two, the high-flow scenario which occurs during the monsoon season when a major contribution to the stream flow is from surface runoff. Sediment wash from the mine area will be high during the high flow period, while concentration of some critical pollutants could be high during the low flow period because of poor dilution potential of the streams. Also, the effectiveness of the two pollution control dams in arresting the sediment wash from the runoff is very critical from the view point of sediment depositions along the Bhadra river, downstream of the mining area.
Since this study was commissioned only in August 2000 and the time of completion of the study was specified to be January 2001, data on water quality and sediment flows during the monsoon months of June, July and August 2000 could not be collected. This is a major limitation of the present study, because these data are very critical during the monsoon months. The effectiveness of the pollution control dams to arrest the silt from flowing into the streams can also be examined only during the monsoon period when the high intensity of rainfall results in a significant rate of siltation. The earlier longer term study conducted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, NEERI (2000), which extended through the monsoon months, also surprisingly did not consider the data during the monsoon periods, and thus that study also suffers from the same limitation as the present study.
For the impact studies on water quality to be meaningful, at least one set of data each during pre-monsoon, monsoon and post-monsoon seasons should be collected and analysed, which could not be done in our present, short-term study. The data collected in our study corresponds to the post-monsoon, low flow period only. Our study also took place at a time when the KIOCL mining operations had halted temporarily because of a pipeline burst that had to be repaired. These major limitations have to be kept in mind when the results of the analysis and interpreted and conclusions drawn from them.
(Page 12 of the CES report)
5. Since in the present study sampling could be made only during post-monsoon period, data made available from the earlier studies (NEERI, 2000) can also reviewed. These earlier studies consider data pertaining to more than one season. It is noted 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. A reduction in the concentration is noticed at many sampling locations during the winter and summer seasons. The general trend is that higher concentrations of Iron occur during post-monsoon with reductions in the later seasons, and this trend is similar at many observed surface water sampling locations. This indicates a possibility of much higher concentrations of Iron in surface water during the beginning of monsoon in comparison to post-monsoon observations. It is also observed from the NEERI studies that, the concentrations of Iron are high in the overflow from the Pollution Control Dam -II (1.68 mg/1), the seepage from Lakhya dam (1.11 mg/1) and the discharges from the Kudremukh Holey (0.8 mg/I) even during the post-monsoon seasons. However, 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.
6. The sediments carried by the runoff from the mine area are trapped by the pollution control dams (PCD-I and PCD-II). Current operations by KIOCL involve periodic removal and reuse of these sediments trapped in the upstream of the dams. Any discontinuation of this operation can cause large increase in sediment loads in the Bhadra river.
7. It is observed that the sediments in the Bhadra river downstream of the mine leased area contain Iron in insoluble form. Any change in the quality of water such as decrease in the dissolved oxygen or pH will convert insoluble Iron into more soluble form. Any industrial or municipal effluents discharged into the river can increase the concentration of Iron in the river system.
The Lakhya dam that holds mine waste and sludge~ from mine operations is critical for preserving the water quality in the Bhadra river. Any breach resulting from discontinuation of or improper maintenance can cause effects which might be catastrophic.
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. However, it is possible to get reasonable estimates of the impact by making a separate comprehensive study of the siltation and sedimentation issues due to the mining operation.
(Page 15-20 of the CES report)
The grasslands of Kudremukh can be classified as the Arundinella Chrysopogon or Arundinella Psudanthistria type according to the standard classification of grasslands (Puri et al. 1983). The common grasses we found at Kudremukh in our sampling of various sites are Arundinella purpurea, Psudanthistiria umbellate, Ischaemum indicum and Chrysopogon hackelii. Grasses such as Dimeria ornithopoda, characteristic of undisturbed grasslands, are seen in places such as Kuringal. The Gangdikal area has a high abundance of Arundinella purpurea and Chrysopogon hackelii. Although the abandoned mining area had several species of grasses, the percentage grass cover was the lowest of all sites samples (Table 3.2.4). Typical root parasites such as Striga sp. and Aeginetia indica are seen among the grasses. Common herbs in the grasslands include Canscora diffusa, Curcuma oligantha, Desmodium triflorum, Alysicarpus sp., Atylosia sp., Tephrosia sp., Smithia conferta and Cassia mimosoides.
Kudremukh National Park offers a diversity of physical and vegetational formations that harbour an equally varied mammalian fauna. This National Park is the widest and largest block of wildlife habitat in the central and northern Western Ghats. The higher elevations are dominated by shola- grassland formations, medium elevations by contiguous rainforests and lower elevation by secondary forest formations. Thus resource availability for mammals is expected to vary altitudinally, inducing significant seasonal movements associated with plant pheonology.
Field investigations were spread over three months from September 2000. This rapid survey was undertaken to assess the status of mammalian fauna in different parts of the Park. Relative dung and pellet abundance was assessed by laying fixed-width transects (50m x 2m) in grasslands and moist deciduous and evergreen forest patches. A total number of fifty four pellet plots were laid in forest patches and fifty one in grasslands. Sherman traps were used to assess the relative abundance of rodents. A total no of 340 traps were kept in forest patches and 200 traps were kept in grasslands. Camera traps were also used to record the presence of large mammals in the sampled area covering both grassland and forest patches.
Sambar, Gaur, Hare and Elephant were recorded in the pellet surveys. Photographic evidence was obtained for Gaur, Porcupine and Palm Civet using Camera Traps. Two species of rodents and shrews were trapped in the Sherman traps. Direct observational surveys and assessment of habitat suitability indicated the presence of mammals like: Liontailed Macaque, Muntajc, Tiger, Palm Civet, Bonnet Macaque, Malabar Giant Squirrel, Common Langur, Indian Elephant, Gaur, Jackal, Ruddy Mongoose, Dusky Striped Palm Squirrel, Large Brown Flying Squirrel and the Pteropus fruit bat.
Based on preliminary assessments, at least 42 species of mammals are known to occur in Kudremukh National Park (Appendix 3). This list is rather incomplete and does not contain many additional species from the orders Chiroptera (bats) and Rodentia (rats) that undoubtedly occur there. A list of mammals for Kudremukh National Park along with their status in terms of rarity, endangerment and threat is given in Appendix 3. The rare, threatened and endangered species. Details of the surveys of scats of large carnivores and the sightings of large mammals encountered during the year 2000 are given in Table 3.3.1 and Table 3.3.2.
Four endemic species of conservation significance occur in this region: Lion-tailed Macaque, Malabar Civet, Brown Palm Civet and Small Travancore Flying Squirrel. The Park has perhaps the largest populations of Lion-tailed Macaques in the entire Western Ghats. This primate is highly endangered and endemic to Western Ghats. Several other rare species known to occur in this region are Indian Wild Dog, Dusky Striped Squirrel, Malabar Giant Squirrel and Bonnet Macaque. There is no definitive information available on the occurrence of other endemic species like Indian Tree Shrew, Brown Mongoose, Nilgiri Marten, Small Travancore Flying Squirrel and Malabar Spiny Door-mouse. However, these are likely to occur in this region based on their general habitat preferences and distributional range.
Because of its uniqueness, Kudremukh has attracted the attention of wildlife biologists and there have been a few surveys of fauna in this region. Davidar (1980) was the first to undertake an ecological reconnaissance survey of the region and highlight the ecological sensitivity of the area. She also examined the status of forests and wildlife, investigated major threats to wildlife and tried to look at some of the possible impacts of mining operations on wildlife in this area.
Karanth (1984; 1985) undertook a more detailed and systematic survey of the distribution of the endangered lion tailed macaque in Karnataka during 1983-84. He observed that suitable and extensive rainforest habitat for Lion-tailed Macaque existed in Kudremukh and that the tract probably harboured the largest contiguous population of lion tailed macaques in the western Ghats (Karanth 1984). He further suggested that Lion-tailed Macaques could be effectively used as a flagship species to conserve the entire biotic community in the region and prepared a conservation plan for survival of wild population of Lion-tailed Macaques in the region delineating the present national park area as a proposed nature reserve (Karanth 1992). Based on his report, the Karnataka State Wildlife Advisory Board suggested to the Government that Kudremukh National Park be created. Subsequently, the notification of the national park was declared.