In March 2005, the state-owned Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO) entered into a joint venture with the Jindal groups’ Jindal Vijayanagar Steel Ltd. (JVSL) to form TIMCO (Tamil nadu Iron ore Mining Corporation ltd.). TIMCO was formed with the agenda of mining the approximately 75 Million tons of low grade (47%) of iron ore in the Kavuthi-Vediyappan hills near Tiruvannamalai, in Northern Tamil Nadu. The initial forest clearance applied for by TIMCO was for clearing 638 hectares of forest land in Kanjamalai Reserved Forest in Salem district, and 325 hectares in Kavuthimalai Reserved Forest in Tiruvannamalai district—potentially resulting in the felling of over 200,000 naturally grown trees in the dense forests.
The mining operations, if conducted, would have impacted close to 51 villages which have had a flourishing agricultural economy. The proposed mine would result in the destruction of 325 ha. of undisturbed Reserved Forest. The mining would also have had negative impacts on agriculture, water sources, trees and herbs, and local wildlife. The Kavuthimalai hills of Tiruvannamalairegion also hold religious significance for local villagers as well as thousands of devotees who take a 1km parikrama (a religious walk that involves circumambulating along the sacred mountain) every year around the Tiruvannamalai hills which are considered the abode of god in Tamil literature dating back to the 7th century. The proposed mine is located 8 kms away from the giri valam—the path that the devotees walk along the foothills of the holy mountain.
The protesting parties against iron ore mining in the hills ranged from local villagers, to NGOs, to politicians, and independent professionals. Several citizen groups were formed during the process of mobilization against the proposed mine, benefication and pelletisation plants. Forms of protest included protest rallies, signature campaigns, and awareness campaigns through the potentially impacted villages, and court cases against TIMCO.
In 2008, the regional ministry of forest and environment, after reviewing the case, proposed that the project not be granted approval. On 27th December 2008, a group of over 1000 protesting farmers gathered at the public hearing for the project. They emphasized the importance of perennial springs which serve as sources of water, and which have allowed the villagers to manage farming operations through the drought seasons. Focusing on multiple dimensions of significance that the mountains hold to the local villagers, one farmer from Andiyur village was quoted as stating, “One needs to know the significance of the hills and its role in shaping the lives of the farmers to understand our anger…Vediappan (after whom one of the hills is named) is our ‘kuladeivam’ (family deity)”. Given the level of opposition, the Supreme Court of India, formulated a Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) which published its report in 2009. The CEC report strongly advised against allowing the project to start citing ecological degradation of the pristine dense forest, the presence of various springs that originate in the hill which supply water for agricultural needs, and generation of soil, water and air pollution which could have potentially negative impacts on the lives of locally residing villagers.
In April of 2014, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), one of the most significant political parties joined the cause of the protesters with DMK treasurer, M.K. Stalin stating at a protest rally that “they would not allow mining operations to begin since the project would “destroy water resources, farming, (and) environment”. In May of 2014, representatives of TIMCO came forward with a proposal to use 23 ha. of undisturbed Reserve Forest, instead of the initially proposed 325 ha. in Kavuthimalai hills. In response to this suggestion, a motorcycle protest rally through the villages which would be potentially affected by the mining operations, was organized by the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam. L. Alagesan—the joint secretary of the organization, stated that they would “not allow even a fistful of soil to be mined as the project would affect people living in the vicinity in a bad manner and also destroy several trees, affect wildlife, herbs and birds. It would affect biodiversity, environment and livelihood of people”.
In February of 2015, a massive forest fire erupted in the Kuvuthi-Vediyappan Hills—in the region which was allocated to the iron ore mine, benefication and pelletisation plant, which raged for more than two days and destroyed much of the forest cover. In April of 2015, following years of petitions and protests by citizens groups, and a case filed by Advocate S Ganeswaran, the Madras High Court denied permission for iron ore mining in the region. However, representatives from Jindal group, after the declaration of the verdict by the High Court, stated that the group would continue with its attempts to purse mining operations pending a final decision by the Supreme Court of India—the apex court of the country.