Every few minutes, a truck laden with iron ore zips by Sushilanagar, a village in the Sandur valley of Karnataka’s Ballari district. Ten mines surround the village. Six have opened over the last few years. Clouds of iron ore dust float in from the mines and from the trucks to settle on the region’s corn, groundnut and onion fields.
“Crops wilt under the dust. We used to get 30 tonnes of corn per acre as yield, and now we get just 17 tonnes,” says Chandra Naik, a member of the Scheduled Caste Lambani community who has a four-acre farmland abutting the Ramgad range of mines. “You can’t survive as a farmer here at all.”
Sandur valley is the hub of Ballari’s iron ore mines and 80% of the ore mined in Karnataka, the third largest iron ore producing state in India. A decade ago, the mines here gained national notoriety on the back of a boom in prices due to demand from China, and widespread violations of environmental and mining laws by firms, including those