The nowhere people of a former mining town

The people of Jamble in Mudigere taluk left their fertile agricultural land and home at Malleshwara village, also called Kudremukh, to pave the way for KIOCL (Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Ltd.) to set up its offices and conduct mining operations four decades ago.

Now, for the last 12 years, mining activities have stopped, thanks to protests against environmental damage caused. Over the last 12 years, this has resulted in regeneration of the environment, but those who gave up their land for the project feel duped and lost.

While there is no retrieving their lost land, they have been denied basic facilities like school, college, hospital, bank and so on following the closure of the mining activity and the township it had spawned. Either these facilities have wound up or are not accessible to them.

“We all protested against KIOCL and wanted its closure to protect our rivers, primarily the Tunga. At the same time, we were expecting that the basic infrastructure facilities in the Kudremukh Township are allowed to be utilised by the local people,” said Suresh Bhat, secretary of Kudremukh (Malleshwara) Mulanivasigala Hitarakshana Vedike, a forum for welfare of the native of Kudremukh.

The Kudremukh Township was built in the 1970s after the KIOCL, a company under the Ministry of Steel, got 30-year lease to extract iron ore in the area. The company spread its activities over 3,500 acres and purchased another 286 acres from the people. “Altogether, we were 69 families in Malleshwara village. We were offered a maximum of ₹5,000 an acre. The company built small houses for us at Jamble, about 5 km away from Malleshwara. One person in each family was given a job in the company,” recalled H.S. Sriphalaiah, a native of Malleshwara.

Mr. Sriphalaiah’s big bungalow housed a joint family of 45 people, but the company considered it as one family.

“We gave up 85 acres for peanuts. Only after a tough struggle we got two acres of land each,” he said. Though they gave up land and lost their homes for the industry to come up, they had restrictions on utilising the basic infrastructure facilities in the township. Now, even that option is closed. “Kendriya Vidyalaya closed last year and I fought to retain the school, but failed,” said Nagesh Gowda, president of the vedike.

When mining operations were under way, the population of the township was over 12,000. More than 1,400 were working at the place, besides daily wage workers. The company built 1,700 quarters, including 48 villas. When the construction activity was going on in full scale, the population was more than 20,000.

Till last year, three banks – SBI, Syndicate and Canara – had their branches in the township. The local people too had accounts there. Now, their accounts have been shifted to the branches at Kalasa, about 20 km away. “I have to travel to Kalasa for my bank transactions. Don’t we deserve a bank?” asked Mr. Sriphalaiah.

The KIOCL had built a 50-bed hospital in the township. It was meant only for employees and their families. “Now, hardly one or two persons visit the hospital in a day. At present, roughly 40 employees are there. Soon, they will be shifted too,” said Srinivasulu, orthopaedic surgeon in the hospital. Besides the doctor, there are only three permanent staff – an ambulance driver, attender and lab assistant. Earlier, there were 12 specialists in the hospital.

The local people say they should be allowed to use the hospital. “We don’t have a hospital nearby. One has to rush to Manipal (90 km away) in Udupi district for any medical emergency. We are aware of some efforts to declare the place a forest area, but we will not allow it. The township is out of the national park area and it is revenue land, where many of us lived years ago. It should be retained as revenue land and utilised for the public good,” argued Mr. Nagesh Gowda.

He and members of the forum have demanded the government return their land if it was not used for public good. “We are against declaring it as forest land. If the government cannot make use of the infrastructure facilities, it better return our land,” he added.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 4:40:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/the-nowhere-people-of-a-former-mining-town/article19526288.ece

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