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Escalating Ecocide in the Kudremukh National Park
Chapter3e

Habitat fragmentation also increases opportunities for penetration of intact communities of niche specialist communities of plants and animals, by common, aggressive, sometimes exotic generalist species (often referred to as trash species in conservation biology) that ultimately replace or extirpate the rare niche specialist types of organisms. This seen in our data, for instance, with generalist bird species such as crows, sparrows, mynahs and kites that have invaded the mining areas and surroundings, to the exclusion of habitat specialists of higher conservation value.
Yet, when the decision site the iron ore mine at Kudremukh was taken in the early 1970s knowledge of island biogeography was in its infancy and the discipline of landscape ecology had not, yet been developed. The effects and consequences of habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss were poorly understood. Therefore, the ongoing and potential impact of the mining operations in Kudremukh need to be considered in the light of the new scientific knowledge that has emerged since the decision to site the mine at Malleshwara was made about thirty years ago.
The process of fragmentation of the entire stretch of Western Ghats in Karnataka extending from Kutta in the south to Goa border already had already begun some decades ago through ghat roads that seriously compromising their integrity. Within this overall landscape matrix, Kudremukh and surrounding areas still comprise one of largest and most intact blocks of tropical rain forest- grassland biome in the entire Western Ghats. Before the mines were opened up, the present National Park area and the surrounding reserves forests this rainforest landscape block covered over 1000 km. The interiors of this area were unconnected to surrounding regions by major roads or other means of transport and communication.
The establishment of the Kudremukh mines led to the opening up of an additional Ghat road at Mullur between Agumbe and Charmadi across the Western Ghats, as well as three major roads built or upgraded to move heavy machinery and maintain other project activities. These and other smaller service road building activity have led to further fragmentation problems within the entire block of originally intact rainforests. The service road that is used to maintain the pipeline to Mangalore further adds to the problem at places. We note that this road is being widened and re- laid with the consequence of about 500 trees being cut just for this purpose even as this report is being written.
The Kudremukh mines are located in a landscape that does not harbor any large lakes or natural water bodies. Because the area receives rainfall in the region of 6500 mm per annum, and still has extensive forests and grasslands that sustain stream flow through the year, the water needs of wildlife species are adequately met through these natural sources. On the other hand, the large, muddy artificial lakes formed by the Lakhya dam and the proposed Kachige Hole dam will submerge wildlife habitats and further add to the internal fragmentation of the area without providing any concurrent benefits to wildlife.
Perhaps an even more serious consequence would be the expansion of the mining activity to new areas such as Gangdikal and Nellibeedu. The iron ore deposits of Gangdikal lie further west of the present mining around Malleswara, extending almost up to the ridge line. Any open cast mining at Gangdikal would further extend the wedge driven in from Malleswara westwards towards the ridge line, which harbours the highest levels of woody plant diversity recorded. Further, it would cause the total fragmentation of the landscape of Kudremukh National Park in the east-west direction across the plateau and disrupt habitat contiguity between the northern and southern parts of the Western Ghats in Karnataka.
4.2 CONCLUSIONS ON IMPACTS OF IRON ORE MINING ON THE FLORA AND FAUNA OF KUDREMUKH NATIONAL PARK
The Kudremukh National Park in Karnataka is one of the largest stretches of evergreen forests of low, mid- and high elevation along with a mosaic of shola-grasslands. The wet climate (average annual rainfall of 6500 mm, one of the highest in the country) and the tremendous water retention capacity of the vegetation in Kudremukh has led to the formation of hundreds of perennial streams, forming one of the important watershed areas of the region. These perennial streams converge to form 3 major rivers - Tunga, Bhadra and Nethravathi, which are important lifelines for the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Malleswara and its environs, including the township and the iron ore mining area, have driven a wedge from the east into this large and otherwise contiguous block of tropical moist forest and grassland in the Western Ghats. A total area of 420 ha of leased area has been opened up for iron-ore mining till date. Open cast mining, by its very nature is a very destructive activity, that causes virtually irreparable damage over the time period of decades or even centuries to a natural habitat. Even a cursory visual examination of the abandoned mining areas (leave along the active mining areas) would bring out the stark landscape as compared to the adjoining natural grasslands and forests. At Kudremukh this is accentuated by the extremely high rainfall characteristic of the region. It was observed that some of the shola forest valleys have not been mined but has been subjected to degradation due to soil erosion, working of heavy machinery and use of explosives for the mining operations. Hazards of landslides in the mined area are anticipated, due to tampering of underground watercourses and loose strata of the worked soil for the mining operations.
The overall impacts of the mining and associated activities on the ecology of Kudremukh National Park can be summarized mainly as the direct loss of habitat and the fragmentation of an important tract of tropical rainforest/grassland in the Western Ghats.. Some recommendations of a more general nature for the future management of the area are also given.
a) MINING IMPACT ON OVERALL BIODIVERSITY
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 value and species composition, with luxuriant growth of several grasses and other herbs. The animal groups we looked at also showed high diversity levels, with several habitat specialists across the taxa.
It is clear that the areas opened up for mining and abandoned mine areas have very low diversity of most plant and animal groups we examined. 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 is obviously no regeneration of shola forest species in the abandoned mine belt. The low diversity is also reflected in the near complete absence of most animal groups we examined. There is a paucity of mammal (but for the occasional straying in of tiger and perhaps low presence of jackal, sambar and rodents), bird, reptile, amphibian and butterfly species. The water environment in the mining-impacted area and the immediate downstream also show a poor, longer term biological quality as seen from the presence of the few fish and aquatic insects known to be tolerant to turbidity and pollution. This is interesting in view of the fact that the purely physico-chemical parameters examined in the same waters during the post-monsoon period satisfy the Indian standards for drinking water. Obviously these aquatic organisms are responding to longer term changes in water quality and micro-habitats.
From the biodiversity angle we would like to emphasize the value of the following species or groups. 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. Some bird species that are habitat specialists are found in the grasslands of Kudremukh. Several amphibians and reptiles, that are habitat specialists or endemic to the Western Ghats, are seen in the forests of Kudremukh. There is a possibility that new species of fishes, unrecorded in India, may be found in the pristine Bhadra-Tunga river system at Kudremukh (obviously, this needs more careful investigations). We thus strongly disagree with Sharma (1977) who gave little importance to Kudremukh as regards its wildlife.
b) IMPACT THROUGH FRAGMENTATION
Apart from the direct loss of habitat for a variety of plants and animals through open cast mining, the indirect impact on the biodiversity of the Kudremukh region has to be considered through the fragmentation effects. While Malleswara township and the mined area have made a deep intrusion into the larger ecological region of Kudremukh, we also have to consider the associated effects of facilities such as roads, power transmission lines and the slurry pipeline.
Since the inception of the iron ore mining project in the 1970s, the forests of Kudremukh were opened up for large-scale human influx (50,000 laborers were once employed; the population in 1991 was about 10600) during the construction of infrastructure facilities for the mining operations. Formation of approach roads, electric lines and pipelines have opened up some of the most inaccessible areas in the Western Ghats, to human intrusions and illegal activity in the surrounding forests.
The iron ore slurry pipeline passing through the western slopes is mostly underground. But this has also opened up many road approaches through the evergreen forests for the maintenance of the pipeline at different locations. Recently there were several incidents of leakages in the iron-ore slurry pipeline. The spread of iron ore slurry leakage is estimated to be at least 100 ha along the slopes of the forest and the rivulets down stream. The pipeline has leaked 5 times within a span of 3 years; around 4000 tonnes was leaked into the forest during each leakage. Repairing and laying of a new pipeline to bye pass the damaged pipes obviously causes some damage to the forests of Kudremukh National Park.
We also observe that KIOCL has laid several kilometers of roads in the Nellibeedu region, outside of the leased area and within the National Park, as part of their prospecting operations for iron ore.
The total direct loss of wildlife habitat due to the project, for mining, dam, roads, electric transmission lines, pipelines etc. is around 2000 ha. The cascading ecological effects on the adjoining forests due to the project and its ancillary facilities are spread over a larger area.
c) GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON MINING AND FUTURE MANAGEMENT
The iron ore deposits at Kudremukh are of a low grade, containing 33-38% of iron concentrate. After the benefication process of the iron ore it generates 62-67% iron ore waste tailings. The waste tailings