Mining ban to jeopardise economy in Bellary

Written by Jaishankar Jayaramiah | Bellary | Updated: Aug 14 2011, 03:59am hrs
Raju (26) of Laksmipuram village in Sandur taluk in Bellary district is a farm labourer turned mine worker. While the mining ban in Bellary has cheered the environmentalists, it is a great loss for Raju, who used to get R300-400 per day for working at the mine. I dont know whether eco damage has happened due to mining. Which other industry will provide us such a lucrative job. If we go to the farms, we cannot get more than R150 a day, he said.

Nagaraj (27) of the same village, said the government should take some immediate steps to support the youth and farmers, who have lost jobs due to the ban. Nagaraj used to own a lorry for transporting iron ore. Sensing trouble in the mining industry a few months ago he sold his lorry. Now he sits idle at home.

Several farmers cant go back to agriculture even if they want to, as mining companies had purchased their land to stock their iron ore. The farmers had sold their land at rock bottom prices in the range of R 50,000 to R1 lakh per acre just before the mining boom hit the region in 2003.

While around 10,000 people are estimated to be employed directly in the mines, unofficial estimates say that around 1.5-2 lakh people are attached to allied industries like steel mills, sponge iron manufacturing facilities, transport sector and hundreds of heavy vehicle workshops.

Interestingly, many farmers were carrying out mining in farm lands, illegally. This was termed locally as digging.

The digging was carried out in several thousand acres of land in Hospet, Sandur and Bellary region. Some of the farmers rented their fields to mining companies to stock the iron ore. After Central Empowered Committee (CEC), appointed by the Supreme Court, started assessing the impact of mining in Bellary in 2010, the farmers sensed trouble and slowly started returning back to agriculture.

Now with the SC banning mining activities, except for the government-owned NMDC, almost all farmers have started getting back to agriculture, said HK Basavaraj, a social activist and an advocate practicing in Sandur Court.

Due to the mining boom, the cost of living in the town has sky rocketed in the past five years.

The middle income group was affected as the rent of a single-bed room house doubled to R6,000 with ten months advance payment.

The rentals may not come down immediately while the money flow in the region has come to a standstill, said Muniraj, a villager who lives near deputy commissioners office in the city.

The heat of the closure of mines was felt immediately in the transport sector. There are more than 18,000 lorries in Bellary district alone. But around 10,000 lorries were seized by the financiers after the government banned exports last year, as the transport operators could not remit their dues. Due to this, around 50,000 people lost jobs in the past one year, said K Venkata Rao, president of Bellary District Transport Operators Association.

Around 8,000 lorries were transporting ore to local steel and sponge iron companies after the export ban. But the current suspension of mining has severely affected around 40,000 employees and their family members.