The state government’s decision to amend the Act on quarrying will result in serious harm to the environment, especially the Western Ghats region, and pose a danger to villages and towns, according to environmentalists.
They say that while amending the Act, the government has concentrated only on revenue villages. But in Malnad, the condition is different. Several villages are not revenue villages and such villages were not considered while giving permission for units, they say. Moreover, the distance fixed for temples and schools in the amended Act is too short and no reference was made on forest, wildlife and bio-diversity in the amended Act which will devastate the Western Ghats region, they said. The Karnataka government amended the Karnataka Regulation of Stone Crushers Act 2011 (Karnataka Act 08 of 2012) after the Supreme Court rejected a petition by quarry owners challenging the High Court directives on safe zones for quarries.
In 1998, the Karnataka High Court had issued guidelines to the state government to identify safe zones for stone crushing units keeping in mind ecology and public health.
The High Court had said that safe zones should be located at least 50 km from each other and they should be at least two km from national and state highways, one km from villages, schools, rivers and temples.
It had said the zone should be four km from the district headquarters and eight km from the municipal corporation limits. However, the government passed the Karnataka Regulation of Stone-Crushers (amendment) Bill, 2013 during the Belgaum Session in December 2013 and notified it in the Gazette on January 21, 2014.
Sources in the Mines and Geology department suspected a lobby of stone crushers behind amending the Act. The Amendment Act says safe zone will not be located within 200 metres of national highways and state highways, 100 metres from district and other roads, 500 metres from revenue villages, temples, schools and municipal corporations, city municipal corporations and town municipal councils.
Justifying the amendment, the state government said that it had appointed various technical committees to locate safe zones but concluded that no such safe zones could be identified.
Vrikshalaksha Andolana president and former president of the Western Ghats Task Force Anantha Hegde Asisara said the government should have studied the pros and cons on the environmental impact and that a public hearing should have been conducted before amending the Act. “I am not against stone crushing units or mining because, we require them for development. But there should be sustainable harvesting system for everything,” he said.