Mining dust causes Sandur horticulturists distress

Horticulture Rural Karnataka

I lost all my harvest because of mining dust

Mining dust has caused a massive loss to horticulture in Sandur taluk of Ballari district. The horticulture department estimates it to be between 75% and 90%. 

The main crops grown in Sandur under the horticulture department are anjura, pomegranates, chillies and bananas. 

Badapati Chinna Babu, an environmental engineer explained to The Observer: “…mining dust accumulates on leaves, which obstructs the absorption of sunlight and stops… photosynthesis. Particulate matter (iron, lead and arsenic) pollutes the air, as well as blocks sunlight which hinders photosynthesis of the plant. This stops vegetation growth, and the stomata are blocked. The leaves of the plant are damaged, resulting in crop failure,” 

Farmers cannot identify crop deficiencies initially because mining dust covers leaves. The root cause is not known and cannot be treated in time. Mining dust pollutes the surrounding soil as well. “The soil pH is supposed to be neutral (6.5-8) for roots to absorb nutrients. Because of mining dust, the pH is disrupted,” he added.

Gajarappa, a seasonal farmer who makes a living by growing bananas on his two acres of land, shared: “Five years ago, I was a regular farmer who grew maize and made a living. I was introduced to horticulture by the horticulture department and promised I would make more profits. I was greedy and decided to shift to bananas. This year, I lost all my harvest because of mining dust. I’m in a lot of debt and have no option but to work as a labourer in these mining companies.” 

K. Lakshamma, the wife of a farmer who grows chillies and groundnuts, said mining dust has increased over the years. Mining blasts have been a constant, and we cannot complain to anyone. I have a son and a daughter who are still studying. We cannot harvest if mining dust continues to haunt our fields. Last year, we lost most of our harvest. This year, we have lost our hopes for a complete harvest. We have been complaining to the horticulture department for years. They are helpless as well.”

MLK Naidu, president of the Farmers’ Association of Sandur, said: “I have written a letter on behalf of all the farmers to the mining companies to compensate us for the losses we have faced because of the mining dust. They always promise to compensate, but we are tired of their lies.” 

Hanumesh Nayak, senior assistant director of horticulture, said: “Villages near mining-affected areas are troubled by mining dust. People are reluctant to complain about mining companies. The better option for farmers who have suffered losses is to switch jobs, which leaves cultivable land uncultivated. Farmers either demand compensation from mining companies or shift their jobs from farming to working in mining companies.”

He continued: “With so many mining companies established in Sandur, mining dust is persistent and damaging the crops. The cultivable land is left, and agriculture and horticulture are not taken up as a source of income. People depend on mining companies for jobs.” 

The horticulture department has sent a complaint to the deputy director of horticulture about mining dust causing severe losses to farmers. Crops that haven’t been destroyed also don’t get sold because mining dust has ruined their quality. This has resulted in a complete loss for farmers.

The PRO of Sandur Manganese & Iron Ores Limited responded to The Observer: “We are aware of the situation, and we plan to compensate the farmers. However, the National Mineral Development Corporation remained unresponsive.

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