02 Oct 2010
By G Rajasekaran
Express News Service
SALEM: Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta Resources PLC may have got marching orders at Niyamgiri, the sacred hill of Orissa’s endangered Dongria Kondh tribals, but an equally sacred peak in Tamil Nadu has not been as lucky. For, Agarwal’s Madras Aluminum Co Ltd (Malco) continues to denude the Shevroyan peak, a sacred hill of the Malayali (natives of the hill) tribals in Yercaud. This despite the Malco unit being dysfunctional since last year.
The scenic Shevroyan peak is the tallest among the peaks in Yercaud. At the centre is the ancient Shevroyan cave temple where the tribals worship. Tourists flock the peak round the year and tribesmen from 67 villages in Yercaud congregate for an annual week-long celebration in May. Yet, licence to mine bauxite was granted to the Mettur-based Malco on the Shevroyan peak along with five neighbouring hills spread over an area of 461 acres.
Fifty years of mining denuded the last remains of the Shola forests in Yercaud and irreversibly marred the Shevroyan peak’s beauty. Blasting cracked the temple and still poses a threat to the cave (believed to be the mouth of a tunnel extending up to Mysore). The size of the peak’s table-land is shrinking as loads of soil are being transported every day.
After an Express expose in 2005, mining was banned in 37 acres of the Shevroyan peak, but Malco got a free run in the other five peaks. Also, nothing was done to protect the temple, except cementing the crack on the structure.
The Malco unit was shut last year because of lack of raw material. The company too informed the government that it was surrendering the Shevroyan mines. But before the process of surrender could be completed, the company changed its mind. The government too fell in line and renewed its licence in February this year. Ever since, it has been merrily extracting the mineral from the hills.