Even as the ruling BJP and opposition parties in Karnataka are involved in a heated debate in the legislative assembly over rampant exploitation and thievery of natural and forest wealth, there is indication that mining activity could soon move base from Bellary to ore-rich Khanapur in Belgaum district.
According to sources in the revenue department, some politicians and miners have been buying up huge tracts of land in Khanapur, which abuts the Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve (DATR). “All I can is that people from the powerful mining industry have been buying land here,” said the source, requesting anonymity.
While chief minister B S Yeddyurrappa envisages to impress upon on the government of India to stop export of ore, the mining community, according to the source, is confident that it would be granted permission to exploit the verdant, undulating forest tracts in the Khanapur region, which is home to the endangered tiger, among several other flora and fauna that are typically endemic to the Western Ghats.
The region is home to the Wroughtens free tail bat, which isn’t found anywhere else in the world. Considering the special status of the species, the forest department is in the final stages of declaring its small habitat as a protected area.
To ensure that the protection of this endangered species of bats wouldn’t put a spoke in the wheel of mining activity, the mining lobby planted a story in a newspaper, highlighting that the bat species was found in large numbers in the Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve (DATR).
However, a survey conducted by the forest department has shown that the Wroughtens free tail bat does not co-habit with ten other species of bats found in the sprawling tiger reserve.
Wildlife conservationists and NGOs could use this survey as a tool to deter the state government from granting mining licenses in the region.
Conservationists are hopeful that former India captain Anil Kumble, who is vice-chairman of the Karnataka state wildlife advisory board would include this subject in the list of agenda for the next wildlife board meeting.
According to researchers Jones, Purvis and Gittleman (2003), “Approximately 25% of all species within Chiroptera (nearly 240 species) are considered threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). At least twelve species have gone extinct in recent times.
Megachiropterans tend to be more at risk than microchiropterans (34% and 22% of species, respectively), but both groups are facing substantial threats from habitat loss and fragmentation. Destruction of, or disturbances to, roost sites is particularly problematic for bats. Species with relatively small geographic ranges and/or that are ecologically specialized tend to be at greatest risk.”
The western ghats which is one among the eight global bio-diversity hot spots has already been ravaged by the mining mafia. Mining dumps within the DATR make for an ugly sight in the otherwise pristine environment.
Like parthenium eating into huge tracts of forest land in Nagarhole and Bandipur tiger reserves, curry leaf plants (Karri Bevu), which are unpalatable to the already depleted herbivore population, dominate the plant species around these dumps which the forest department hopes to rejuvenate and green through acacia plantations.
Conservationists and NGOs fear that Khanapur would go the Kudremukh way (it was devastated before the Supreme Court stepped in) if the Karnataka government gives the go ahead for mining activity.
However, the state government has to obtain clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), before it can entertain the exploitation plans of the ruthless mining mafia.
Hopefully, the MoEF doesn’t get swayed by the cash-rich miners.