The stage was set for the Government's World Environment Day celebrations, complete with a bedecked stage and a classical music group, but officials could not brush aside reminders of one of the most prominent environmental crises the State is facing.
Before customary promises of planting saplings and motivational speeches about the ‘three R's' could be made at the event organised by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board and the State Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment, activists positioned themselves outside the venue to protest the human cost of iron-ore mining in Bellary.
Representatives of the Bellary District Youth Congress Committee emptied out sacks full of red ore-dust, a by-product of mining, which they said caused respiratory and skin infections among residents.
However, their intended audience – Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who was to attend, did not show up. Also absent was Minister for BWSSB, Information and BT, Science and Technology Katta Subramanya Naidu.
“Environment Department officers are hand-in-glove with the mining companies,” said committee president J.S. Anjaneyulu. He said 95 mines and 38 sponge iron units had violated air pollution norms with impunity.
A.S. Sadashivaiah, Chairman of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, and Bangalore Mayor S.K. Nataraj spoke.
Cricketer and vice-chairman of the Karnataka State Wildlife Board Anil Kumble, who was the undeniable star of the occasion, especially among the children in the audience, said that there was a need to create awareness about “forest etiquette”. He said that while forests constituted 22 per cent of the State, only 5 per cent was protected.
Minister for Ecology and Environment J. Krishna Palemar gave away State environment awards (of Rs. 1 lakh) to Mohan Ramakrishna Hegde (Uttara Kannada), Gramantara Samudaya Vignana Kendra (Shimoga), B Ishwar Prasad (Bangalore), Out Reach (Bangalore) and B.S. Raghunath (Chitradurga). Biodiversity awards were presented to seven individuals and institutions.