BELLARY: :Mineral can be mined only where it occurs." Bruce Forte, a British geologist, did not imagine that what he would reveal to the world in the year 1900 would, by the beginning of next century, become a bane for Bellarians.
He was the first to announce to the world that Hospet-Sandur region had good deposits of iron ore in the hill ranges.
The British did not delay in taking up the issue. By 1910 they laid railway line between Sandur and Guntakal, one of the earliest railway lines of this region. It was mainly to transport wood.
In 1950 iron ore mining started. But the mining was done at the tableland of the hills. In geological terminology it was called as float. In 1976 miners turned to reef mining and only State Trading Corporation (STC) and Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation (MMTC) used to export ore mainly to Japan.
In 1970 many private companies entered the mining and started reef mining. There were around 100 leases at that time. But compared to huge reserves in India the steel factories were very few. Entry of sponge iron made even 10 mm to 35 mm size ore usable.
Earlier it was between 120 mm and 150-mm. Second digging at float began. But Mysore Minerals Limited (MML) was the sole authority then. It notified these patta lands as its property and started mining. According to the rules a pattadar cannot mine the ore. In 1980 lumpy or float was emptied. MML denotified the area and left.
In 1985-86 it was found that 0 to 10 mm (dust) also had good market. So third digging of float had begun. But this time no holds barred for digging process. Farmers themselves have begun digging the ground where the ore was available just 3 to 4 ft deep. Agricultural lands became either mines or dumping grounds.
Farmers have become labourers in these places leasing out their lands to mine owners. They are engaged in sorting the fines, lump and shiver. Sponge iron factories have become home industries.
There are 884 such digging points in Hospet and Sandur areas. There are 131 crushers in Hospet region alone that are used to blend low quality ore with high quality to make required quality ore.
After illegal mining became an issue the authorities started raiding these crushers and digging points. On Thursday, Assistant Commissioner, Hospet sub-division closed five crushers in a raid. Government has given license to 27 sponge iron units in Hospet region. Four of them have begun their work.
"But there is another face of illegal mining," points out Minister Chennigappa in his confidential report dated March 6, 2006, to the Chief Minister Kumaraswamy. This is encroachment of forest area around the mines on hill tops. According to him 10,000 to 25,000 tonnes of iron ore is extracted illegally each day in these forest areas.
Iron ore mines of Hospet and Sandur have become mines of illegality and black money.
"No one need to have a mine now to transport ore. Licenses are sold to middlemen at three to four times the cost," pointed out Chandrababu, the president of Raithara Hakkubadhyatha Horata Kriya Samithi.
"Permit costs Rs 35 per tonne. It is sold at Rs 170 per tonne. Each load carries 17 to 25 tonnes and the middlemen gets Rs 800 per tonne,” he pointed out. There are 78 mining companies. But 44 have leases and around 20 are active. Others are open only for permits.
Hospet-Sandur region, according to latest study, has a reserve of 3,500 MT of iron ore. From this region 3,48,21,714 tonnes of ore was sent in 2004-05 while it was 3,51,74,368 tonnes in 2005-06, said Narasimhamurthy, Deputy Director of Mines and Geology.
China too, in the beginning accepted ore only from Government sources. Later it opened its doors to private miners. Now it is allowing even middlemen. This caused a boom in mining activity in Hospet-Sandur regions.