The Gold Mines of Kolar

“Everything that glitters is not gold.”

Well, this aphorism is not true in case of Kolar Gold Fields (KGF).

Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) is a mining region situated 30 kilometers from the Kolar district of Karnataka. Robertsonpet, which is the headquarters of Kolar Gold Fields, has produced tonnes of gold for over a century, but unfortunately due to low levels of gold production it was shut down in 2001. It also includes the township of the same name – KGF. It is where most of the families of the employees working at the Bharat Gold Mines Limited reside. BGML was formerly known as Bharat Earth Movers Limited or BEML which is an Indian public sector. It undertakes the manufacturing of a variety of heavy equipments which are used for earth moving, transportation and mining. The town is named as ‘gold fields’ because of its glorious history and its association with the precious metal.

Moving back in the timeline to the 2nd and 3rd century AD, Gold was first mined in Kolar which is located in Karnataka by digging small pits. The scale of this operation expanded and grew during the rule of the Chola dynasty in the 9th and the 10th century. However, the complete large scale mining came into picture only during the 1850s during the British rule, as they had the access to more manpower and high-end and sophisticated machinery. Thus, began the act of digging for gold in Kolar.

In the year 1871, a retired Irish soldier called Michael Fitzgerald Lavelle from the British Army took residence in Bangalore after having fought in the Maori wars in New Zealand. Post retirement, M.F. Lavelle wished to make it big, but he spent most of his time reading. During his reading sessions, an article from the 1804 Asiatic Journal caught his eye. This four-page article is what led to the birth of the world’s second deepest goldmine.

During the war in New Zealand, Lavelle had developed an interest in gold mining and once he found the article by LT John Warren, his excitement was uncontrollable. John wrote in his article the possible gold reserves in and around Kolar. His encounter with gold dated all the way back to 1799, when Tipu Sultan was killed by the British, and all of his territories were handed over to the Mysore princely state. Warren, who was serving his Majesty’s 33rd regiment of foot, was summoned to Kolar to survey Tipu Sultan’s territories. He had heard a whiff of stories about the gold reserves and fables of people digging gold with their bare hands. Thus, he announced a reward to anybody who could show him this precious metal. Very soon, the villagers appeared before him with bullock carts full of gold. After inspection and investigation, Warren concluded that with the help of proper equipment, the land could open up to a lot of gold reserves.

Furthermore, from 1804 to 1860, there were several failed studies and experiments that took place in the search of gold. However, in 1871, a very determined Lavelle made a 60-mile bullock cart ride to Kolar and after his thorough investigation he was able to identify potential mining locations. Unlike others, he found traces of gold deposits. He then requested the Maharaja’s government to grant a mining license, after which he acquired a 20-year lease to mine in Kolar. The 2nd of February 1875, marked the era of modern mining in India.
Soon, mining experts from all over the world were invited to dig shafts in Kolar. The golden era of KGF was marked upon the arrival of mining engineers from Norwich, England. As operations in KGF soared high, the British planned for India’s first ever power plant in Kolar. After approaching the Maharaja with a proposal to build a hydroelectric plant, it was soon implemented, and all the candles and kerosene lamps in KGF were replaced by bulbs.

By 1902, KGF had uninterrupted power supply. However, the gold reserves in the mines began to run out slowly and finally, in the year 1956 the state government had taken over most of the mines. With that, even though, many protests took place, the mines once producing 95% of India’s gold were shut down for good. The abandoned underground tunnels, once pathways of gold are now flooded with groundwater. Even though KGF continues to bear gold in its depths, the cost of retrieving it would exceed the value of the gold itself. Thus came an end to the golden era, and like they always say, ‘All good things come to an end’.

Picture Courtesy- MetroSaga

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