The small cow shed, turned into a house at Chikkanagavali village in Chickballapur, is coated in white dust, as are jackfruit and neem trees. In the background, the carved out edifice of the Balanagammana Betta hillock is seen.
Dhananjay Reddy runs his hand over the low roof of his house. “At 5 p.m., blasts go off at the quarries. Tremors rumble through and dust settles on houses. On the roads, we can’t even see the vehicle in front of us. In our houses, we struggle to breathe,” he says.
There are 18 crushers and quarries in the 4 sq. km hillock. This year, Chickballapur district has seen 85 applications for stone quarrying, or more than half the mining-related applications received by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) since January this year.
Over 348 acres of stone quarries are in the process of being set up, marking a return of large-scale mining to the district after nearly four years. The last two years saw just six mining applications being approved by the SEIAA, while between 2009 and 2016, 91 licenses were granted for mining.
In Chikkanagavali village itself, an additional 17 stone quarries are in the pipeline. “We’ll have to leave the village if they all get permissions… Let the State government relocate us if they want to open up the entire area for mining,” says Reddy.
His wife Sumalatha says their two younger children have breathing problems, while the yield of milk from cows — which remains their primary source of livelihood — is reducing.
Demand for stones
Chickballapur’s recent trysts with mining is mired in controversy. In January 2016, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) made Environmental Clearance compulsory for minor minerals, including stone quarries through the District Environment Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA).
While some quarries shut down, others functioned illegally. A Lokayukta probe followed, multiple FIRs were filed, and vehicles were seized.
The then Chickballapur Deputy Commissioner submitted an interim report in 2017 stating that hillocks close to Nandi Hills and other forest areas should be marked as ecosensitive areas. A senior official said there has been no action on these recommendations.
“The demand for building stones from Bengaluru is fuelling mining here. In the process, there are serious health and environmental effects,” said a district administration official.
Meanwhile, the National Green Tribunal struck down the MoEF notification and disbanded DEIAA for “lacking expertise” in dealing with mining cases.
“Mine owners have paid penalties or got their cases quashed and have now submitted applications. Illegal mining has been curtailed and the due process of environmental clearance will be followed,” said Prasanna Kumar N S, Director, Department of Mines and Geology.
However, many people in the area are angry. Lakshman Narsappa’s 6-acre farm, where he grew ragi, rose and mango, abuts the stone quarry at Chikkanagavali. Nearly two years ago, he gave up on farming.
“The dust settles on mango flowers, after which there will be no fruit. Even last month, we went to the police station to complain but no action has been taken,” he said. “I can’t imagine how we’ll live if more quarries are allowed.”
Anjaneya Reddy from Hirenagaveli says his ragi yield has dropped from 35 quintals in his 2-acre farm to 6 quintals. “We had confronted quarry owners who offered to pay Rs. 10,000 per acre as compensation. Most of us took it, but now we realise that our livelihood through agriculture is nearly impossible,” he said.
Mine owners say resumption of operations will boost economy. “A few years ago, there was rampant mining as rules were not strict. Now, there are a lot of permissions to be taken, while drone surveys are to be conducted annually to check on illegalities. While there are some issues for villagers, it is also true that their livelihoods were hit due to the ban on mining,” says Vikranth G., whose family has asked permission for expanding their stone quarry in the area.
Anirudh Shravan, Chickballapur Deputy Commissioner, said while there were no complaints from villagers, the administration has been taking action.
“Illegal mines have been shut down and the ones that are operating are legal. We will act on complaints received,” he said.