Photo Essay: A Ghost Town In The Western Ghats
The Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Ltd has plans to move the Supreme Court for permission to lease out the entire abandoned township so it can be developed as a high-end tourist destination, complete with a golf course.
But environmentalists are against the idea.
After a long, legal battle waged by environmentalists, the Supreme Court ordered the public sector Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Ltd (KIOCL) to shut down its mines inside the Kudremukh National Park area. Since 1 January 2006, the KIOCL— which is headquartered in Bangalore— has stopped mining iron ore from its captive mine at Kudremukh.
Till early 2006, the KIOCL township was a thriving one, housing more than 1000 families of workers, staff and officers of KIOCL. Today, it is a ghost town with 85 contractual employees to “maintain” the township and 60 permanent employees who will shift out once all assets of the KIOCL at Kudremukh are liquidated.
At the entrance to the township stands the abandoned Kendriya Vidyalaya that had 2000 students. It was the only Kendriya Vidyalaya in the Chikmagalur district.
Opposite the school is a small store run by Parvatamma who pays the KIOCL a monthly rent of Rs 1000. The shop caters to the few families of contractual workers and junior officers in the KIOCL township. There were two large departmental stores inside the township once.
Next to the store is a PCO booth that shut shop five years ago.
Next to the PCO is a bus-stand that has fallen into disuse. Three private buses enter the township every day to pick up and drop a handful of passengers.
Pravin, a private bus operator, says that, till 2005, about 30 Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) buses and as many private buses used to stop and pick up passengers from the township from early morning to late evening. Abhinaya, 32, who runs an autorickshaw, said that during its heydays, recalls that as many as 30 autos and 20 taxis (cars) used to be parked always in the large parking lot in front of Parvatamma’s shop. Abhinaya’s grandfather was one of the 63 owners of the land that was acquired by KIOCL for setting up the township.
Kudremukh was known as “Malleswara” earlier. Abhinaya says when the KIOCL bigwigs were surveying the area in a helicopter, to set up the township in 1973, they saw a mountain in the shape of a horse’s face and they named the area as Kudremukh (kudre means “horse” in Kannada and mukh stands for “face”). The land losers were given three acres of land with a house and a permanent job in KIOCL— for them and their successors for all times to come. Abhinaya’s father, Vardhamana, used to work at KIOCL till it closed down a decade ago. Had the mining continued, Abhinaya would have been a KIOCL employee instead of eking out a living as an autorickshaw driver.
Kalian, 55, is one of the 85 contractual employees of KIOCL. He is supposed to maintain the township— sweep the roads and ensure it is not overrun by bushes. But most roads have broken down and the abandoned township has been taken over by wild bushes, grass and trees. Kalian stays in a small one-room shack with his wife, Singaramma, and a daughter. Power and water supply to the workers’ quarters were cut off in early 2006. Singaramma is happy when it rains; it saves her the four kilometer trek to a stream to collect water.
12 bungalows that used to serve as quarters for senior officers and the 54 room KIOCL guest house and officers’ mess have been leased out by KIOCL to a private hospitality company. This company has renovated and refurbished the three-bedroom sprawling bungalows and the guest house and thrown them open to tourists.
The KIOCL has plans to move the Supreme Court for permission to lease out the entire township to the hospitality company for developing it as a high-end tourist destination, complete with a golf course. But environmentalists are against the idea— they are opposed to any human activity inside the 600.57 square kilometer Kudremukh National Park that straddles the Chikmagalur, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts.
Meanwhile, along with the tourists, tigers have returned to Kudremukh National Park that is also home to many wildlife species including wild dogs, sloth bears, Malabar civets and spotted deer.
All pictures were taken by Mayur Karanth.
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