Illegal mining in Mandya: A saga of bans and non-implementation

‘It’s business as usual after a few weeks and there is no continuous monitoring’

Published - July 10, 2021 11:25 pm IST - MYSURU

A file photo of a quarrying unit near Baby Betta in Pandavpura taluk of Mandya district

A file photo of a quarrying unit near Baby Betta in Pandavpura taluk of Mandya district

The current political slugfest over illegal mining in Mandya – between Mandya MP Sumalatha and former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy – is only the latest in a series of such periodic bouts on the issue that erupted in the district.

The district administration of Mandya frequently orders “ban” on quarrying or use of explosives for stone extraction; the latest being soon after the blast in Hunasodu near Shivamogga in January this year which left six people dead.

In August 2019, the authorities had announced a ban on use of explosives for stone extraction so as to rein in nearly 80 units that were then functioning in Srirangapatana and Pandavapura taluks, mostly without permits or their licences had not been renewed. This was followed by another ban in January 2020, but to no avail.

M. Lakshman, convener of Cauvery Technical Committee, constituted by the Institution of Engineers, Mysuru chapter, and comprising members who have worked on dams, said these bans are only announced through the media but never implemented. It is business as usual after a few weeks and there is no monitoring on continuous basis.

Illegal quarrying and mining is controlled by political leaders and include both the past and some present MLAs cutting across parties, and hence, the ban cannot be implemented, according to Mr. Lakshman.

Though the focus tends to be on quarrying in Baby Betta Kavalu in Pandavpura taluk, due to its proximity to the KRS, there are scores of stone quarries operating without permit in the district and pose a threat to the structure.

Seismic analysis

The threat to the dam was also confirmed by the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC) when it submitted a report to the government in September 2018 based on seismic data monitoring and analysis.

The KSNDMC has established VSAT Enabled Permanent Seismic Monitoring Stations on the KRS dam premises and it recorded two signatures of varying intensities within a gap of six seconds on September 25, 2018, and attributed it to quarry blasts.

What is significant is that the two recorded signatures came from a radial distance of 10.5 km from the KRS dam observatory, which is the same as the radial distance from the observatory to Baby Betta where stone quarrying takes place.

The KSNDMC report further stated that the signatures recorded at the KRS dam observatory were not earthquakes as they were not recorded in other observatories established nearby at Gundal dam, Thippagondanahalli, Harangi, and Hemavathi dam.

No regulation

In view of the importance of the dam in Cauvery basin and being the lifeline for millions by providing drinking water and irrigation, the KSDNMC had called for surveying the area within a radial distance of 20 km from the dam. It also sought for a plan to regulate activities which can harm the dam structure in the long run. But nothing has been done to crack down on quarrying and illegal mining.

When an amateur photographer from Mysuru flew a drone to get an aerial perspective of the KRS dam last year, he was rounded up by the police and booked for violation of the law.

But the same alacrity as displayed towards the act of taking a photograph of the dam has not been shown by the authorities in cracking down on quarrying and mining, which poses a greater threat to the dam, said an observer.

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