KOCHI: It has been a more than two-decades-old fight for K M Mathew. The 64-year-old former government employee has been on a struggle for clean air, sustainable environment and safe living. A private quarry functioning at Thattamugal close to his home has been posing a threat to his life since the early 1990s. With plenty of greenery around, Thattamugal ward in Mazhuvannoor panchayat in Kunnathunad taluk has been offering a sustainable living to the lcoal residents with vast paddy fields, hills and pure water. Since the granite quarry and crusher started functioning, life has become difficult for them as the air smells of gunpowder.
“More than 20 families living nearby have been suffering for a long time. Many have been forced to leave their birthplace in pursuit of a peaceful life. With the blasting permit, the quarry owners have been going about recklessly over the years. We have our grandchildren living here with the fear of getting injured any time. Despite reaching out to many officials over the issue, no one seems to be concerned about the people’s safety,” he said.
Even in his retired life, Mathew remains restless as he has a ‘war’ to win. “I always considered it as a war. John Mathai Tharakan, who used to be the owner of the Madaparambil quarry, had threatened me on several occasions. When my grandchildren are developing breathing difficulties because of the poor quality of air and the houses nearby developing cracks due to the blasting, how can I remain calm?” asks Mathew.
“My son was compelled to shift to the house of his in-laws due to the poor health of his kid. It’s not just about me. Residents nearby have also undergone treatment for various diseases since this quarry started operating,” he said.The quarry had remained non-functional in the early 2000s when it did not get environmental clearance. But the owner opened another quarry adjacent to the existing one under his son’s name, says Mathew.
Besides the poor air quality, the water level has depleted drastically after the constant quarrying flattened the hill which used to be the major source of water in the area. “Forget the damage to my home, we never had a scarcity of good drinking water here before. Now, all you can see are dry wells and uncultivable fields. The blasting and transportation of rocks and sand in large lorries have caused enough damage to our health. The waste water coming from the quarry after cleaning the gravel for sand is seeping into farmlands and most of the farmers have stopped cultivation in the past few years,” said another resident.
Surprisingly, a few houses stand 80m from the quarry. “The quarry has been functioning by violating the environmental clearance norms. Whenever I approached officials, they brush aside the complaints giving silly excuses. Instead of showing empathy to us, a few of them point to the need for metals to build roads and bridges. All departments including the Pollution Control Board knew that if the quarry was allowed to operate, the entire area would eventually become unlivable. We are still hopeful of a humanitarian approach from the district collector and other officials,” added Mathew.
‘Quarry abiding by rules’
Meanwhile, officials have clarified that the quarry is functioning following the rules.”I had received the complaint of K M Mathew and asked the Mining and Geology Department to make a thorough inspection at the quarry. As per the report submitted by the tahsildar, the quarry is functioning abiding by the permit terms. Other than Mathew, no one has given any complaint against the quarry to me. If the department officials find any discrepancies based on the updated parameters, we will initiate necessary actions,” said Chandrasekharan Nair, Muvattupuzha RDO
‘Allegations part of personal vendetta’
On the other hand, John Mathai Tharakan, father of quarry owner Ashley John Tharakan, said the quarry has been functioning with all prescribed clearances and all allegations are baseless. “Our quarry is far from the homes and we are not using electric blasting to avoid any unwanted mishaps. As it functions with the dangerous and offensive trade licence, any violation would lead to the suspension of the quarry’s licence. As we are making m-sand, it is natural for waste water flowing to a low-lying area. All these allegations are a part of personal vendetta and the petitioner has a long-standing grudge towards me. As our existing environmental clearance is about to be renewed, the complainant wants to create unwanted issues,” he said.