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Problems and Prospects of Quarrying

 
  Quarrying has led to flattening of hills and large-scale excavation of even agricultural land

There is much scope for expanding Bundelkhand's granite and sandstone industry. The value of granite found in UP Bundelkhand districts alone is around Rs 60,000 crore according to UP Directorate of Geology estimates.

Proper exploitation of this potential requires, at the first stage, better quarrying techniques, using new technologies, which will lead to improved working conditions and lower the cost of mining.

At the second stage,  processing and conversion on location, can meet needs for value-added products like blocks, flooring slabs, structural slabs and ready-to-fix tiles. Local artisans can be trained to produce sandstone artifacts and sculptures for monumental purposes. 

While there are quite a few small and medium scale cutting and polishing units in Panna, there is good scope for more units in both Panna and Sagar.

However, the industry poses many problems. Basically, it has been allowed to grow without regulation on two fronts: labour benefits and environment protection.

Labour employed by stone quarries across the region is unorganised and enjoys no standard industry benefits like fixed working hours, paid leave, health insurance, maternity benefits or accident compensation. Some benefits are provided, but purely on the whim of employers, and generally as a means of ensuring secure supply of cheap labour.

In a writ petition filed in 2007 in the Allahabad high court, Akhil Bhartiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan (ABSSS), which is headquartered in Chitrakoot, estimated that there were around 150 stone crusher units in the vicinity of its office. Most of them were operating for 12 hours a day and some were operating round the clock in shifts. The petition provided worker details of around 50 units located in Bharatkoop, on the road from Chitrakoot to Banda. Around 225 workers, including 24 children, were working in these units. The daily wage they got was Rs 40 only. Due to heavy air and sound pollution, workers suffered from respiratory ailments, skin irritation and stress related problems like headache and chest pain. Many people who have worked for ten years or more in the units suffered from silicosis and TB - a fact attested by medical reports annexed to the petition.

In general, the stone extraction and crushing units have brought wealth to a few, at an enormous cost to the environment and health of people employed and living around the units. Continuous blasting is said to have weakened houses and rail tracks in the vicinity of the mines in Lalitpur and Jhansi districts. A more serious and undeniable problem is flattening of hills, large-scale excavation of even agricultural land, leading to vast cavities, and complete waste of groundwater encountered while going down to greater depths.

Mining of gneiss, also used in construction, but commanding a lower price, is done in a similar way, and causes similar problems. Sandstone crushing is highly noise-polluting and spreads a vast amount of fine dust over the neighbouring area,  reducing fertility of cultivable land and causing respiratory problems.

 
  Labour employed by mines and quarries across the region is unorganised and enjoys no standard industry benefits

More damage is being done with impunity. Often quarrying is done in areas or in time periods not covered by 10-year leases.

A May 30, 2006 report in the Chitrakoot edition  of Dainik Jagran stated that quarrying and transporting of materials was being done round the clock in 13 lease areas in a place called Karari Ghat, near Chitrakoot, although the leases had expired on May 27, 2006. It also reported that in Bargarh, on the border of  the district with Allahabad, quarrying was being done in areas not covered by a lease, including forest areas. It alleged that similar instances of illegal quarrying could be found in several other locations in the district.

Quarrying does not comply with the environmental regulations laid down in Chapter VI of the central government's Granite Conservation and Development Rules, 1999. The rules state that if top soil is excavated, it should be utilised for restoration and rehabilitation of the land, or landscaping external dumps. Waste rock should be so stored that it does not degrade the surrounding land or cause silting of water courses. As far as possible, the waste should be 'backfilled' into the quarry. Waste dumps should be terraced and stabilised by planting vegetation. Air pollution, discharge of effluents and noise should be kept within permissible limits.

Further, every granite mining lease holder should 'take immediate measures for planting in the area held under the lease or any other area selected by the state government, such number of trees sufficient to improve the environment and to minimise effects of land degradation'.

Compliance with environmental norms is also practically non-existent in case of quarrying for less valuable stones, classified as minor minerals. Even the law is weak. The Uttar Pradesh Minor Minerals (Concession) Rules, 1963, clause 41 (g) vaguely states that quarrying lease holders are bound to keep vigilance for not polluting the environment of the leasehold area and nearby area in connection with mining operation and also maintain ecological balance of the area.

In Bundelkhand, there is no recent record of enforcement of the second part of the clause, which states that a lease may be terminated 'if any time it is found that the mining operation are [sic] leading to environmental pollution or imbalance of ecology'.

A basic problem is that the leases are controlled by people with considerable muscle power. The problem is indirectly acknowledged by clause 41(i) of the above-mentioned rules, which states:

If after grant of mining lease or mining permit, it is brought to the notice of the state Government or the District Officer of the concerned district that the lessee or holder of mining permit is actively associated with Mafia or any unsocial element [sic] or organised crime or is a mafia or Mafiso [sic], then after giving an opportunity of being heard, the lease or mining permit, as the case may be, may be terminated prematurely.

Apart from the generous leeway given to anyone who is 'a mafia or Mafiso' ('the lease…may be terminated…after giving an opportunity'), the clause has been ineffectual because the well-known existence of 'unsocial' elements has to be brought to the notice of the state government. Who would dare publicly expose a 'mafia or Mafiso'?

The MP government's mineral policy gives space for an alternative: it provides that quarries of minor minerals like low-value stones can be allotted, without auction, to cooperative societies of people of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, and traditional miners.

In Mau tehsil of Chitrakoot, some small leases are held by people belonging to landless SC groups, who had organised a 'halla bol' movement in the 1990s to claim quarrying rights near their villages. But the UP government mineral policy itself gives no space for the poor to benefit from minor minerals in their area.

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