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Escalating Ecocide in the Kudremukh National Park

needs to be disposed off or permanently stored to avoid getting washed into the river due to the high rainfall in the area. A 100m high dam was built across Lakhya stream (a tributary of River Bhadra) for iron ore waste tailing collection. This dam has submerged 572 ha of shola forest valley with iron ore waste tailings, out of which 340 ha has been submerged outside the lease area boundary as an encroachment into the National Park.
Hazards of breaching of Lakhya Dam, due to the high rainfall in the region needs to be re- examined and regularly monitored. The Lakhya Dam had come to a near disaster, when the dam had started breeching in 1992. Human habitation in the KIOCL township and the settlements 45 kms downstream along Bhadra River were evacuated to avoid a disaster. Detailed studies on the structural stability of Lakhya earth fill dam in the longer term needs to be carried out, if the tailings are going to be permanently retained in the dam. The future management of the Kudremukh region, whether with or without mining operations, has to invariably take adequate care of the iron ore waste tailings at Lakhya (as well as the two smaller pollution-control dams) in order to avoid any future disaster.
Three fresh water streams originate from the mining area. The high rainfall, steep slopes and loose soil in the mining site, could potentially result in severe soil erosion during the monsoon. As pollution control measures, the KIOCL has built two pollution control dams across these streams originating from the mining area. During the post-monsoon period these dams seem to be generally effective as evidenced by the acceptable quality of water downstream of the mining areas during the months of October and November. However, the effectiveness of the dams during monsoon (the crucial period) could not be monitored, as our study period was limited to a few months after the peak monsoon when mining operations had shut down for repairs to a pipeline. The longer-term study by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has also not sampled the water quality during the monsoon period. The Water Resources Development Organisation (WRDO) recorded a surge in silt loads in river Bhadra downstream of the mining area during the peak monsoon months of 1983-86. Detailed studies need to be conducted, to examine the sediment contribution from mining area at Kudremukh in reducing the designed life span of Bhadra Reservoir.
Future management of the region will have to take concerted and effective measures for
prevention of soil erosion, through civil and biological controls in the abandoned mining area. This task will be more complex in view of the high rainfall in this region, the hilly terrain and the nature of open cast mining.
There has been considerable effort in raising plantations of exotic species in the natural grasslands of the Kudremukh region. There are several observations we would like to make on this activity.
a) The drive to cover the grasslands with: plantations of exotic species such as Acacia auriculiformis and Eucalyptus actually began with the Karnataka Forest Department (Forest Development Corporation) in the mistaken notion that these were grassy blanks or wastelands that had to be afforested.
b) While it is beyond the scope of this document to go into details of the past ecological history of the Kudremukh region and of the origin of the grasslands, we wish to emphasize the following. The montane grasslands (>1800 m asl) of the Western Ghats such as in the Nilgiris and the Anamalais have now been shown to be the natural climatic climax through irrevocable evidence from stable carbon isotopic analysis (Sukumar et al. 1993, Rajagopalan et al. 1997) and pollen (Vasanthy 1988). These montane grasslands have their unique complement of plant and animal life and need to be preserved. We recognize that the grasslands at Kudremukh occur at lower altitudes, and that some of this could be because of anthropogenic disturbances in the historical past. However, there is absolutely no biological justification for converting these grasslands into plantations of exotics.
c) The KIOCL has continued the same trend by planting nearly 8 million saplings of Eucalyptus and Acacia auriculiformis in 2000 acres of grasslands as compensatory afforestation. The introduction of such exotic species has undesirable long-term effects on the natural grassland and the adjoining shola forest. The exotic species are hardy and are resistant to climatic factors, which will gradually dominate over the natural grasslands and perhaps even over the shola forest species.
d) In recent months the KIOCL, realizing the importance of mixed species plantations, has also planted the seedlings of a large number of native evergreen forest trees in the abandoned mine area. While this effort itself is commendable, we feel that it is misplaced for the following reason. Evergreen forest plants require the appropriate ecological conditions of soil type, moisture and in many cases shade for their growth. Thus, 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.
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. There is a proposal by KIOCL to construct a new dam to store iron ore waste tailing, as the present dam for this purpose in Lakhya Dam is almost completely filled to its capacity with waste tailings. 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.
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. 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.
The Kachige Holey Dam has a total cumulative capacity of 88.85 MCM, which can only hold waste tailings of the available ore at the already broken area. If fresh areas at Gangdikal and Nellibeedu deposits (total area 1233 ha) are to be mined, new valleys will have to be submerged for the storage of iron ore waste tailings in addition to the proposed Kachige Holey Dam, resulting in far more devastation of the landscape and biodiversity of Kudremukh. This would be totally incompatible with the existence of a National Park in the region.