Kudre - Muck!
Karnataka peddles "new" iron ore in "old" bottles.
Sample letter seeking clarifications is provided at the end of this page.

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News: SC directs state to re-consider notification of Kudremukh National Forest
July 2001: Once again the government of Karnataka finds itself under attack for non-compliance with the laws. Only weeks after the much-publicized failures to enforce the laws in the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor, comes the issue of the Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Ltd. (KIOCL), which is seeking environmental clearance to continue and expand its mining activities in the Kudremukh National Forest and adjoining areas for a further 20 years. [Note: A temporary three-month extension has been awarded July 24th].

The Environment Impact Assessment Notification issued under the Environment Protection Act requires that statutory Environmental Public Hearings must be held for high impact projects at the start of the process of review of any application seeking environmental clearance. The Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited (KIOCL) has sought a 20-year extension of its mining permits in Kudremukh National Forest. This would extend the temporary permit granted in 1999; however there may be plenty of reasons not to award this extended permit.

Open-cast mining results in huge amounts of surface earth being runoff into rivers.

KIOCL has been mining in the Aroli and Malleshwara regions of Kudremukh National Park, based on a 30-year mining lease which expired in July 1999. During that time the company mounted a vigorous campaign to get a 20-year extension of the lease. When the lease came up for renewal, Environment Support Group, Kalpavriksh, and various action groups and individuals from India and abroad pressured the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) not to extend the lease, instead urging the Ministry to ban mining in Kudremukh altogether. Also, Mr. S. K. Chakravarthy, Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW) of the Karnataka Forest Department opposed the extension; however, he was overruled.

Pressure from action groups, however, met with some success, for MoEF provided only a temporary extension. A few conditions were attached to this extension, moreover. KIOCL would have to commission detailed environmental and wildlife impact studies within the temporary period (one year), and any future lease extension would be subject to the findings of these studies. Instead of these detailed assessments, the government conducted only the much shorter Rapid Assessments; these were made by the Centre for Ecological Sciences (Indian Institute of Science - IISc) and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). The IISc rapid assessment recommended against further mining. NEERI, for its part, has claimed that its EIA is "confidential" and refuses to disclose its findings. The company was also required to set up the Centre for Study of Biological Diversity in Western Ghats in consultation with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and has so far not complied with this stipulation either.

One reason the company is lax in complying with the laws is that the Karknataka Forest Department has historically behaved like an arm of the KIOCL! Over 40 kms of roads were constructed in preparing to expand mining operations and several wells drilled all over the Nellibeedu area of Kudremukh National Park in abject violation of the Wildlife Act. as the KFD looked away. In another instance, the height of the Lakya Dam was illegally increased - that action resulted in the submergence of a large area of "shola" forests. Whenever corrective action has been initiated by a few diligent officers, it has been thwarted at higher levels of administration or defeated by political interference.

There is a legally binding procedure for obtaining the environmental clearances. The Karnataka State Pollution Control Board should issue a 30-day prior notice for Public Hearings keeping the Environment Impact Assessments on the project in public view. It is only after the Public Hearing is held, if required repeatedly and in different locations, can the Board proceed to grant No Objection Certificate (NOC). On the basis of the NOC the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests reviews the application for final environmental clearance. The entire process could take a minimum of three months, if there are no delays or lack of compliance. Thus far, this process has not even begun!

The Karnataka government contends that the proposed mining is merely a continuation of the existing activity, and therefore no public hearings are needed. The Member Secretary of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board has claimed that "existing mining activity need not full fill the requirement of public hearing". What is being attempted, instead, is an effort to grant clearance benefiting KIOCL based on what is known as the "forest clearance cycle" that questionably involves no public review. This procedure can be applied only when extension is sought on the basis of an ongoing activity provided no expansion, modernisation or change of process is involved resulting in an increase in "pollution load" as originally assessed.

The present 20 year extension sought by KIOCL involves deep mining for primary ore and increase in the height of the existing Lakya Tailings Dam and even building of one or two more dams. Implying, therefore, that the extension sought is for a wholly "new project" as defined by law. Consequently the present extension application should fully comply with the procedure laid down in the EIA Notification. Instead what is attempted is a surreptitious accordance of clearance by the "forest clearance cycle".

Editor's Note: On 24 July, the government of Karnataka provided a second temporary permit for 3 months, allowing existing mining activities to continue, but barring the initiation of new mining. The government's position appears to be that the amended Mining Act permits such a short-term permit in the absence of long-term leases. While this has moved the deadline for the final decision a few months, the core issues regarding transparent assessments and public information remain. In view of the above irregularities we ask that you write to the appropriate authorities asking for clarifications and that the legally required process of obtaining clearances be followed. A sample letter of request is included below, click here to launch your email client, then copy all the text below this line and include in your email.

Note: If your computer is not set to launch an email client from the links on this page, here are the addresses.
  1. cm@kar.nic.in - Chief Minister of Karnataka
  2. kspcbcom@blr.vsnl.net.in - Karnataka State Pollution Control Board
  3. roypaul@envfor.delhi.nic.in - Ministry of Environment and Forests
  4. editors@indiatogether.org - India Together

India Together
July 2001

Click here to write your letter seeking information, transparency, and clarification., then copy and paste the material from the shaded area below.

Chief Minister S.M.Krishna,
Government of Karnataka

Special Secretary
Ministry of Environment and Forests (GOI)

Member Secretary
Karnataka State Pollution Control Board

Dear Sirs,

I am following with grave concern reports of your government's proposal to extend the temporary mining permit granted to the Kudremukh Iron Ore Compnay Ltd. I understand that a temporary three-month permit has been issued while the matter is scrutinized. I would like to seek clarification on the issues raised in this letter.

The company's proposed activities clearly are an expansion of its current ones and not merely an extension of them. As such, fresh environmental and wildlife clearance permits must be obtained. More importantly, public hearings to demonstrate the fullness of such assessments are necessary. The secrecy your government has maintained in refusing to hold public hearings runs counter to the public interest. The purpose of such hearings is to assure the public that minimum safety standards will be met. If those assessments are indeed genuine and well-founded, let the people see them and judge so themselves! Secrecy suggests that such standards are being evaded.

I also await the establishment of a Centre for Study of Biological Diversity in Western Ghats which KIOCL was required to set up in consultation with the Ministry of Environment and Forests; failure to do so violates another primary condition of the temporary working permit granted thus far.

The environmentally sensible, legally binding, and patently honest thing to do is to decline the extension of mining leases sought by KIOCL until all the required conditions are met, and documentation supporting all ecological assessments is made publicly available and understandable to people living in the affected areas. This is the objective that the government of Karnataka should aspire to achieve. Specifically, I would like you to explain why environmental assessments are not publicly available, who conducted them, when, for how long, and what opinion the forest authorities have expressed in this matter.

I trust that you will provide clear answers to these concerns in the interest of transparent and honest government. I am sure these questions occur to many potential investors in Karnataka, and your efforts to provide direct and unambiguous answers will help restore the faith of such investors as well as the citizenry. On the other hand, without such answers, Karnataka will seem a haven for improper economic activity, much to our shame.


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