Published: 27 Sep 2017

The story of Kolar gold fields

Kolar Gold Fields

The Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) in Karnataka – about 50 kilometres from modern-day Bangalore – is possibly the oldest gold mine in India. Historical references suggest that gold was mined there at various points of time from the first century BC, through the period of the Chola Empire between the year 900 and 1000 AD and the Vijayanagar Empire in the 16th century to the reign of Tipu Sultan, the king of Mysore, in the second half of the 18th century. Over the centuries, the KGF provided rulers in South India with a considerable amount of wealth.

One of the deepest mines in India, in the 1980s and 1990s gold was being mined over 3 kilometres below the surface. Only a few mines in South Africa went deeper. The British mining company John Taylor, which took over mining operations late in the late 19th century, installed electric power into the mine in the 1920s - a time when electricity was absent in most of South India. In the 1930s, the company boasted that you could call John Taylor’s London office direct from over a kilometre underground.

Mining at these enormous depths requires special equipment; the KGF had the world's largest winding drum, made in Manchester, England in the 1940s. Much of the machinery installed by the John Taylor group was still functional in the 1990s, even though it was between 50 and 100 years old. That was a tribute both to the original manufacturers and to continuing excellent maintenance by Bharat Mines.

The modern mining period lasted for 120 years, from 1880 to 2001, when the government-owned Bharat Gold Mines Ltd shut down operations because the amount of gold mined each year was nowhere near enough to cover operational costs. But the life of KGF may not be over.

In July 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that mining in India could be started again; allowing the auction of mines, including gold mines. In 2016, the Narendra Modi government announced the auction of KGF. So in the next couple of years, the lights in Kolar, South India’s first electrified city but now a ghost town, may be turned on again.