KOZHIKODE: Is the state government colluding with the quarry mafia under the pretext of protecting the construction industry and giving the latter a free run to plunder the natural resources of the state?
The stand taken by the government before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) last week, seeking at least a year to rein in mining and quarry operators who don’t have environmental clearance, has strengthened this suspicion.
For, if the Tribunal agrees with the government’s request seeking more time for the quarry and mining operators to obtain environment clearance then the latter will be able to continue excavation until the expiration of the one-year permit, irrespective of whether they are eligible or not.
Sources maintained that instead of acting against the illegal excavation of minor minerals such as sand and quarry, government is allegedly trying to protect the illegal operators with the backing of the Court order.
The state government’s position before the NGT and its earlier decision to renew all permits issued for mining of minor minerals without environment clearances for another year shows with whom its sympathy lies.
“Mining permits are issued for a duration of one year. On its expiration, operators have to obtain the permits afresh. Accordingly, the government on February, 2014 issued an order allowing the operators, without environment clearance, to apply for renewal. The intention was to give the permit holders enough time to obtain environment clearance and at the same time allow them to continue to operate till February 2015 by renewing the permit,” said a source in the department of Mining and Geology.
According to government data there are around 2,600 quarries currently operating but only about 100 of them possess mandatory environment clearance.
However, contrary to what’s expected from it, the state government has filed a review petition before NGT seeking reconsideration of its earlier ruling directing scraping of all minor mineral mining permits of those operators without environmental clearance. The government also urged the Tribunal to grant the permit holders a year to obtain clearance. It also sought more time to act against illegal mining activities. Government also pointed out that if the operators are not given enough time to apply for environment clearance, the construction industry will be adversely affected.
Environment and legal expert Harish Vasudevan said, “Government has sought a year time on behalf of the quarry and mining mafia. The move by the government is a step towards legitimising these illegal activities. The move to allow mining and quarrying until they obtain environment clearance is ridiculous. The government’s position on this matter can’t be justified from any angle as it clear from the fact that a chunk of these quarries and mining plots in the state are being operated without the mandatory environment clearance.”
Former Kerala State Biodiversity Board Chairman V S Vijayan, urged the government to reassess its policy on the matter and suggested setting up of monitoring committees to look into the functioning of the quarries.
At present, only mining of major minerals undergo environment impact assessment and clearance procedure. In the case of minor minerals, the procedure is applicable only to mining leases for 5 hectares (ha) or more. The NGT will hear the case again on August 11.
Meanwhile, the director of Mining and Geology department D P Sreekumar said that based on the Tribunal order government has already issued stop memo to all mining and quarrying activities without environmental clearance. “The matter is before the court and government will follow its directions,” he said.