Economy

A boom town silenced

A. J. Vinayak Kudremukh | Updated on March 28, 2011 Published on March 18, 2011

Smoke coming out of Chimney's at Kudremukh plant at Panambur in Mangalore. (file photo)   -  The HIndu Chennai

Giant shovels that can scoop around 30 tonnes of ore at a given point of time lying idle at Kudremukh in Chikmagalur district. -- A.J. Vinayak

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‘High noise zone, wear ear muffs' is the warning sign on a board at the beneficiation plant of KIOCL Ltd at Kudremukh, the iron ore mining town in Karnataka. But a stony silence greets you when you enter it.

Even the Canadian-made giant noisy dumpers (the huge trucks that once carried around 110 tonnes of iron ore from mining site) and shovels that scooped around 30 tonnes of ore at any given point of time, have surrendered to silence.

The chattering of children and arguments of elders is missing in the nearly 1,500 dwelling units in the township. Only BSNL connects you to the rest of the world, and no other network follows you when you are here.

Welcome to Kudremukh.

This is the town, which once was the major contributor of foreign exchange to the Government's exchequer. From a population of around 30,000 once, the town now has hardly a few hundred people.

The story begins with the establishment of KIOCL three decades ago. The company made an investment of around Rs 550 crore in Kudremukh for the mining site, beneficiation plant and township.

The beneficiation plant had an annual capacity of 7.5 million tonnes, a 67-km long slurry pipeline to pellet plant in Mangalore. (Prior to 2006, the concentrate produced at the beneficiation plant mined there was sent to Mangalore through this pipeline by using gravitational force.) The KIOCL Ltd stopped mining activity at Kudremukh from December 31, 2005, following a Supreme Court directive given in response to environmental concerns. A biodiversity hotspot, the mining area falls under the Kudremukh National Park, and other than forest activity, mining is no longer allowed here.

But environmental reasons apart, many of the staff members, whom this reporter spoke to got emotional when they spoke about the town. “I have witnessed the rise of the town. What is the situation now, you have seen for yourself,” says Mr Rajan, an employee of the company. He is talking to a group of journalists from Mangalore who are in Kudremukh on a trip organised by the Karnataka Information Department.

The stoppage of mining at this township has had a cascading effect on several activities. Dr Umadevi, Chief Medical Officer at the 50-bed hospital in the township, once handled many a medical emergency, including babies delivered through the Caesarian section. But she is not so busy these days. The same is true of bus-stands, banks and educational institutions from where the buzz has gone. One of the three banks has already shifted its branch, the number of buses plying in the town has come down, affecting connectivity to cities such as Bangalore and Mysore. The Kendriya Vidyalaya still offers education up to Std X, but the pre-university college has shifted its base to another town.

Mr V. Bobraj Jeyaharan, General Manager, KIOCL Ltd, says the staff strength has come down from 1,260 on January 1, 2006, to 357, and this includes the security and hospital staff. While 536 people opted for VRS, 379 were deployed to other locations of the company. Though the plant is closed, around Rs 4 crore has to be spent every month for maintenance of machinery, plant, and the township. Mr Ramappa, an employee accompanying us, points to the smooth, wide road going to Mangalore, and says: “This road was laid for transporting giant dumpers, shovels and other machinery to the plant.”

Will the town witness the lost glory again, is the question lingering in the minds of people still remaining in the town.

Published on March 18, 2011
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