Large number of illegal stone quarries have mushroomed in Sundargarh district. Not just are they posing environmental hazards to the district, but also causing loss to the State exchequer. But, those quarries have never been penalised for flouting norms.
Sources said Panposh sub-division is at the top of the illegal quarry list with five dozen quarries dotting forest areas under Lathikata, Kuanrmunda and Bisra blocks of the district.
The scenario is no different in areas under Rajgangpur tehsil of Sundargarh sub-division and Bonai sub-division.
Administrative sources said there are 118 stone quarries in the district. Only a few have lease licence and the rest are granted permission through the auction route for one year by the tehsildars who are empowered to allot stone quarries which come under the category of minor mineral sector.
Ironically, the administration has issued explosive licence to two individuals and three contract firms. But all the quarries illegally resort to ‘deep hole blasting’ technique.
On February 1, two workers were killed in powerful explosions at an illegal stone quarry owned by one Ram Chandra Badei at Garjan area under Brahmani Tarang (BT) police limits of Lathikata Tahsil. Four days before the explosions, the BT Police had arrested one Ghamanlal Agarwal and Rath Kisan and seized 3,325 detonators and 61 bags of ammonia nitrate and other explosive substances from their possession. Later, the two were let off.
A local of Kuanrmunda block in Panposh sub-division, requesting anonymity, said around eight illegal stone quarries are in operation in forest areas of Kalosihiria, Besrapada, Sagabeda and Jhitiara. He said villagers held protest in vain to stop sound and air pollution and deforestation. Pits with hundreds of feet depth are left unattended, he added.
However, Panposh Sub-Collector SB Mishra denied existence of any illegal stone quarries in the area. “Enforcement teams have been conducting frequent raids and imposing fine on vehicles for carrying stones and other metals without valid documents,” he said.
Regional Officer of Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) Niranjan Mallick said 10 out of 80 stone crushers in the district were recently closed for violation of pollution norms. As of now, the stone quarries are out of the ambit of OSPCB, he added.