2800 acres of forest land is not meager amount. But the fact is that this is the extent of forest land that has fallen prey to illegal mining in Karnataka. This ironically amounts to 10 per cent of the land that has been lost to mining across the country which amounts to around 27,000 acres.
The 356 page report prepared by Karnataka Lokayukta, Justice N Santhosh Hegde spells out in details this aspect regarding forest cover being ruined thanks to illegal mining. However despite submitting this report it continues to bite the dust as the Karnataka Legislative Assembly refuses to touch it.
The report states that during their investigations that were conducted in the areas of Bellary and Hospet they have found at least 98 instances of encroachment and the forest land in question that had been encroached upon was around 2800 acres. During the course of the probe which was conducted with the help of the forest department, it was found clearly that acres of forest land were encroached and illegal mining was being carried out.
What was even more shocking is that these illegal miners have constructed tarred roads within the forest belt. Worse the forest has been used as a dumping ground for waste material thus ruining the forest cover completely, the report also states. In addition to this, the investigating team has also found that the miners have connived with politicians and have got their job done. They have found several sketches in the possession of these miners which were not even remotely connected with the area that they have been mining in. However the report does not name any particular person or company to be behind this racket. The second probe which is underway by the Lokayukta is expected to name these persons and also the companies that have been trespassing into the forest area and carrying out illegal mining.
This report even had prompted the Union Minister for environment and forests to shoot off a letter to the Karnataka Chief Minister. In his letter he had expressed regret over the inaction of the forest department in protecting its reserve forests.
The Lokayukta report while dealing with illegal mining in forest does not place the blame on any particular political party. It speaks of how a former Chief Minister of the Congress with the help of officials had helped in this racket thriving. A reference to this effect was made against the former Chief Minister to the Governor of Karnataka, who in turn ordered that the state shall not proceed against him for want of evidence.
Former Chief Minister and Janata Dal (S) leader, H D Kumaraswamy too speaks about illegal mining in the forest area. He however accuses the Reddy brothers to be the kingpins behind this and also relies on the sattellite imagery released by the the Karnataka State Remote Sensing Applications Centre. He says that as per these records the mining area which was around 13.5 acres in the year 1998 had shot up to 17 acres in the year 2000. Now it is 57.5 acres and there is deep cut mining activity which is on illegally.
Lokayukta Justice Hegde explains that when the miners apply for a lease they are supposed to give a sketch of the area that they would be mining. During the probe we have found that the sketch of the area that is produced and the area in which they mine have no connection with each other.
The probe has further revealed that the permission by these people is obtained for around 100 acres to mine. They will continue to mine in the forest areas which is well under the probibited area. However the documents would show that they are mining in revenue areas. This is the first stage of the illegality and these documents have never been cross checked by the officials.
The effects of illegal in the forest areas have been disastrous. This area used to house the sloth bear in large numbers. However ever since the illegal miners have entered into this area, the sloth bears have vanished from there. Forest department officials says that this problem is large in the Sandur Reserve forests near Bellary where illegal mining is most rampant. This area used to be infested with sloth bear and today not a single bear remains in the forest area. They have either died or migrated to nearby forests unable to bear the horrors of illegal mining.
In addition to this the area of Bellary has been reporting drought year after year. This is thanks again to illegal mining which has changed the ecological balance in the area. The entire rain pattern has changed which in turn has affected the natural vegetation in the area. The existence of medicinal plants which were in abundance too have become a rarity in this area since they have stopped growing thanks to blasting activity and also due to digging of ore in these forests areas which are marked as reserve forests.