Forest Dept. accomplice, said the deputy; looking for a high level investigation
Madikeri: Illegal and endemic mining of gemstones has been reported in Pattighat reserve forests (Nishane Motte) near Bhagamandala of the Western Ghats under the very nose of the Forestry Department and those with a duty to protect it have now been accused of openly allowing looters to plunder the riches of the forest.
These smugglers unearth gems in the forests with the help of the locals and sell them at a higher price to luxury hotels, jewelry stores, spas and massage parlors. These pristine forests are an integral part of Kodagu and the Western Ghats, and with the exception of wild animals and Forestry Department staff, no one – not even livestock – is allowed in.
In such a forest, covered with mature trees, deep pits are dug and mud is removed and loads and loads of mud are sifted for gemstones, especially red ones, resembling rubies. Ironically, the Forestry Department’s camp and the tents where they keep the jungles are located a few feet from the places that were dug up and yet this was not noticed by the Department.
The Pattighat Reserve Forests begin at the very end of Thannimaani village, accessible from the Bhagamandala entrance gate via Karike Road. You have to travel an area of six kilometers full of ravines and steep gorges to reach it. The reserve forest covers 2,200 hectares of land and joins the forests of Subramanya-Kadamakal.
While the Subramanya Range Forest falls under Dakshina Kannada, Koojimalai, Suttathmalai Pushpagiri and Pattighat (Nishane Motte) Wildlife Sanctuary falls under the jurisdiction of Kodagu District. Public entry has been banned here and unfortunately this ban is a blessing in disguise for smugglers who illegally mine stone.
Well hidden operation
When the first report of this rampant gemstone mining operation was reported by some local villagers in Bhagamandala a week ago, teams from the Forestry Department were dispatched to inspect the area. But strangely, the inspection teams did not find any pits dug deep in the forest. They found only mounds of mud where the pits were dug and the teams reported the same to their senior officers.
Even though the Department justified that there were no pits, local villagers said a little effort would have dug up the entire racket as the pits were cleverly covered with haystack, small blocks of wood. and mud.
The pits were finally spotted on January 6 by Forest Squad staff who were accompanied by Deputy Forestry Conservator Mohiseen and Karnataka State Western Ghats Task Force Chairman Shantheyanda Ravi Kushalappa.
Extensive mining network
According to people familiar with the matter, this mining activity has been taking place in many reserve forests around Kodagu especially in the Bhagamandala region for 20 years. Before Pattighat was declared a reserve forest, illegal mining was concentrated in one or two places from which the stones were extracted. However, after the reserve forest restrictions came into effect, mining expanded to many places.
For example, a deep pit used to excavate the ground was closed in 2020 with cement. Recently another 4ft wide and 30ft deep pit was dug nearby and from there another ‘L’ shaped pit was dug connecting this deep pit, shocking the Forest Squad.
Organized gang camp in the woods
The gangs are so organized that many digging tools, pulleys and ropes to extract the mud, sieves, kitchen vessels, chimneys and iron rods and pipes have been recovered, indicating that the smugglers are camping in inside the area, install fireplaces and even prepare food. . How is this possible without the Forestry Department knowing, ask local villagers. The stones previously fetched a price of Rs. 500 to Rs. 700 per kg, now costs over Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 50,000 per kg, making it a lucrative business for smugglers. Illegal trade was first reported in the 1990s in the forests of Subramanya and Pushpagiri. Gradually, trade spread to the Madikeri and Bhagamandala chains.
Once the stones are extracted, they are polished and marketed in massage parlors, five-star hotels and spas. Once polished, the texture and appearance of the stones change and they look like gemstones.
Jewelry stores also buy these gemstones and they are sold with real gemstones. The stones, of different colors, are used in ‘hot stone massage’, in ‘aromatherapy’ and the quality is decided on the texture of the stones after polishing.
Regular business since 2007
Illegal mining in the Pattighat reserve has been rampant since 2007 and the name of an influential person from Madikeri has been revolving around the racket. The whole investigation that has been carried out so far is just eye-washing and only lower-ranking forestry department staff have been targeted. All senior officers who have been in charge of the Pattighat reserve forests since 2007 must be investigated for the truth to come out. It is clear that the Forestry Department is complicit. I will push for a detailed investigation and pressure the government to conduct a high-level investigation. – KG Bopaiah, MP for Virajpet
1 guard, 2 missing watchmen
Our inspection clearly establishes the involvement of the Forestry Department staff and without their knowledge, no one can enter the central reserve forest area. This is a classic case where the fence eats the crop. Villagers here say that some unscrupulous Forest Department agents accept bribes of up to Rs. 5 lakh to Rs. 10 lakh to allow mining once inside the forests. A forest ranger and two guards are missing their duties and must be arrested. – Shantheyanda Ravi Kushalappa,
Chairman of the Western Ghats Working Group of Karnataka State