The lush green forests at Kappatagudda Hills in Karnataka’s Gadag district, which are under threat from indiscriminate mining, may get another lease of life.
Following a massive dharna, headed by activist SR Hiremath in Gadag, Karnataka’s Minister for rural Development and Panchayat Raj, on Thursday, assured the protestors that he would take steps to get the area notified as a conservation reserve.
He said he will urge the State Wildlife Board, headed by CM Siddaramaiah to take action in the matter.
On December 19, 2015, the state government had declared the range as a conservation reserve, making it clear that 89.92 hectares of forests, which are famous for its therapeutic plant cover, were to be preserved.
However, the joy was short-lived, as on November 4, 2016, the Karnataka Wildlife Board, headed by CM Siddaramaiah, reversed the decision and withdrew the conservation tag. This had angered environmentalists and seers.
Just days after this move, a ‘Save Kappatagudda’ campaign was started by seer of the Tontadarya Mutt, Siddalinga Swamy.
The movement gathered widespread support and on Monday, Siddalinga Swamy, environmental activist and founder of Samaj Parivartana Samudaya, SR Hiremath, several religious heads, students, social activists and politicians carried out a protest march and hunger strike in Gadag.
The march, which began at the Tontadarya Mutt premises, reached the Gandhi Circle, where protestors held placards and shouted slogans claiming Kappatagudda belonged to them.
The hunger strike went on for three days and on Wednesday, SR Hiremath set a 5 pm deadline for HK Patil to get an order issued by the government, which restored the conservation status to the hills. He warned of conducting a protest march from Siddaramana to Kappatagudda between April 14 and May 1, if the minister refused to act.
Reacting to the protest in Gadag, HK Patil assured the protestors that he would call a meeting with the Karnataka Wildlife Board on February 20, where he would push for Kappatagudda to get its conservation tag back.
The movement gathered momentum after the seer had accused the government of giving in to pressure from the mining lobby, as the hills are rich in gold and iron ore deposits.
During the rains, locals place sieves in the way of the water coming down from the hills to collect grains of the metal. Sub-surface mining is also known to be carried out in the region.
In 1902, Dharwad Gold Mines Ltd and John Taylor and Sons from London explored the area for eight years, looking for gold. Poor recovery led them to shut down operations and the mining activities stopped.
After the denotification of the conservation status, the government had granted Ramgad Minerals and Mining Pvt Ltd (RMMPL), a Baldota group, the mining rights in an open cast mine in Sangli village, which is located around 30 km away from Gadag.
“The company was allowed to set up 1,000-tonnes of gold ore per day in a processing plant in Gadag. The mine is estimated to contain 2.4 million tonnes of gold ore and each tonne is expected to yield 2.8 grams of gold, which means the company could produce 8,000 kg of gold from a single mine,” Siddalinga Swamy said, while addressing the media on Tuesday.