Operation Khanij Khoj: Why opening up virgin forests for iron ore is disastrous for Ballari

Chennabasaveshwar P

Bengaluru, Sep 22: The exploration of iron ore and manganese deposits in 10 virgin areas in Sandur taluk, Ballari district, is not making headway due to non-availability of clearance from the state forest department.

The State Government has hired the exploration of iron ore to two Central government agencies - Geological Survey of India (GSI) and Mineral Exploration Corporation Limited (MECL). The estimated exploration cost is around Rs 68 crore.

According to reports, exploration is being carried out in the forest land has made little progress despite the union ministry of mines directing all states to complete exploration activities by the end of the year. Also, the exploration exercise in Ballari has been taken up in the backdrop of the expiry of hundreds of mining leas across the state by March 31, 2020.

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If the ore exploration is not being carried, then it will hamper the objectives of 'Operation Khanij Khoj' launched by Union Ministry of Steel & Mines in 2016.

Why exploration is being carried out in Ballari?

'Operation Khanij Khoj' launched in 2016 is aimed at exploring concealed and deep seated mineral deposits. Under the programme Geological Survey of India (GSI) has identified 100 mineral blocks for regional exploration by private companies. The identified blocks include total area of about 12,000 sq. km with prospects for minerals such as, basemetal, gold, iron, tin/tungsten, strategic minerals, etc.

GSI has planned two projects in (i) Northern parts of Arravallies and Bundelkhand craton; (ii) Western and Eastern Dharwad cratons for mineral exploration. Initially, 100 blocks for were identified reconnoitre survey. The identified blocks include the total area of about 12,000 sq. km with prospects for minerals such as, base metal, gold, iron, tin/tungsten, strategic minerals, etc.

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During the launch of the programme, Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, had said, "Mineral exploration in India needs to be done in a proactive and time-bound manner. The government has taken several decisions to enable this, and to build exploration capacity in the country."

"Mineral exploration and mining are independent of each other," added Tomar.

Local activist opposes forest clearance for exploration:

However, the local activist has opposed iron ore exploration in Sandur forest area of Ballari district. Activist Shivakumar G Malagai opined that clearance should not be granted for exploration citing 'expiry of mining lease'.

Malagai said, "The Union Ministry of Mining unilaterally took a decision and went ahead 'Operation Khanij Khoj'. They are opening fresh virgin forest areas for exploration which is disastrous to the environment."

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"Expiry of the lease by 2020 does not mean mining will not be banned or stopped. It means, these mines will be open for auction and the successful bidders will get the lease and will start mining the ore. Shortage of minerals and expiry of mining lease are not linked to each other as saying government argues."

Most importantly, Malagai said, "The forest area doesn't fall under Schedule 5 and 6 the of Constitution (The tribal areas specified under these schedules enjoy special protection). This gives ample opportunity to exploit resources in the forest area."

Taking note of Union Minister Narendra Tomar's statement differentiating between 'exploration and mining', Malagi said, "Even for exploration you need to cut off thousands of hectares of forest area."

"In Karnataka, more than 35 C-category mines have got ore deposits. Out of 35, they have auctioned 12, still, 23 mines can be used for the steel industry. So, why to open up new area for exploration?, Malagi asked.

'While exploitation of natural resources one has to keep in mind 'intergenerational equity',' added Malagi.

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