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29,400 trees at risk in Sandur due to new mining project

Mining for iron ore is currently underway on approximately 800 acres in the region. In 2019, forest officials cited forest loss, wildlife impact, and environmental concerns to deny mining permits. According to reports, if the Union Environment Ministry approves a new mining project, around 29,400 trees across 150 acres of forested land near Sandur in Karnataka’s Ballari district could be felled. 

Local activists noted that Karnataka’s forest department officials began enumerating individual trees last month in the Ramanadurga forest range, north of Sandur. On June 6, as per the reports the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and Visvesvaraya Iron and Steel Plant Limited (VISL) proposed mining in this area, deeming it essential for VISL’s survival. 

The VISL, located in Bhadravati in Shivamogga district, is a SAIL subsidiary. Financial losses began for the plant after the Supreme Court banned mining in Kudremukh in the mid-2000s, leading to SAIL’s takeover of VISL.

Local activists, monitoring deforestation due to mining for 20 years, told reporters that legal mining in this area would significantly impact wildlife, including Asiatic sloth bears, and the environment. Despite funds gradually coming in to restore Sandur’s forests, activists argue that further deforestation is unjustifiable.

The Karnataka Mining Environment Restoration Corporation recently approved four eco-restoration projects, including planting about 2 lakh saplings in Sandur, totaling Rs 135.71 crore. A 2019 news report indicated that a proposal to divert forestland for mines in Sandur, dormant since 2014, was revived after Bureau of Mines approval. The National Mineral Development Corporation’s proposal aimed to mine 600 lakh tonnes of iron ore over 393 acres in Sandur, projected to generate Rs 9,000 crore in profit over 20 years, despite 800 acres already being mined.

State forest officials had previously warned that mining in the area would destroy forests, cause soil erosion, and potentially affect the nearby eighth-century Kumaraswamy Temple. However, the latest report suggests the state forest department has recommended project clearance by the union environment ministry.

This is the second recent report involving large-scale tree felling; approximately 33,000 trees are slated for removal in Uttar Pradesh for a two-lane road for pilgrims.

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