Karnataka

Sandur’s sigh: Ballari's hills clawed open by mining

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The verdure of the hills, which amazed Gandhiji, was gouged out by indiscriminate mining, and now green shoots are struggling to take root

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“See Sandur in September,” exclaimed Mahatma Gandhi when he visited the picturesque town in present-day Ballari district of Karnataka in 1934. To this day, every second person you encounter in Sandur will quote Gandhiji’s words.

What brought ruin to the lovely hills of Sandur in the 2000s were the rich iron ore deposits. Indiscriminate mining, throwing all norms to the wind, reduced these verdant environs into mounds of red earth and billowing dust, with hardly a blade of grass or a tiny flower left. It appeared as if there was no rule of law in Sandur, and a Lokayukta report described the town as the “Republic of Ballari”. This continued till the Supreme Court banned all iron ore mining in Ballari on July 29, 2011.

With some semblance of the rule of law back in Sandur now, is September the month of green glory again on the hills? Not quite, reveals a visit. With legal mining, though not on the same scale, still on, blasts continue to shake the hills and people in the region complain that their houses develop cracks. The water in the streams still run polluted, and greenery is struggling to come back to life on wasted land in the Ramgad hills in Sandur.

The hopes of revival remain a mirage with a reclamation and rehabilitation plan, drawn up by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education on Supreme Court directions, yet to take off. A huge amount of money is now available with the Karnataka Mining Environment Restoration Corporation, set up by the Karnataka government, to act as a special purpose vehicle for implementing the plan. All these, for now, remain on paper, as the once-green hills of Sandur testify.

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