Accidents are a given at places ridden by corruption and lawlessness. This can be seen in the sites of illegal stone and sand quarries in Karnataka. Ten to twelve districts in the state are infamous for the rampant illegal stone mining and stooges of politicians in power are the patrons of these quarries. It is not surprising that these quarries are sites of deaths and blood baths. Less than a month has been passed since the blast at one of such illegal quarries in Hunasodu of Shivamogga that killed six people; and six workers were killed in Hirenagaveli of Gudibande Taluk, Chikkaballapur district, in a gelatin blast.
The State of Karnataka approximately has ten to fifteen thousand acres of legal stone quarries and crushers. However the State has much higher illegal mining and many more crushers. This is an open secret- the government officials and politicians are very well aware of these illegal operations. Despite the loot of millions no one is able to control or even stop it. The quarry lobby is powerful in the state. This lobby has enough power to topple the government and to determine the election results.
Along with the local workers in these quarries there also are workers from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and other states. In a way this is a bonded labour; it is a system in which the workers are demanded to sweat without any care for their lives. Tons of explosives have been recovered. These quarries are sourcing Gilletan, Ammonium Nitrate, Detonator and fuse from states of Andhra Pradesh-Tamil Nadu and other states. Hoarding these explosives is dangerous and despite this knowledge the mining barons are resorting to storing these life threatening substances with no precautionary measures.
The rule is to carry out the blasts only under supervision of an expert who has a permit to guide such process. This rule is not even considered in any of these mines.
Karnataka has a stringent law which governs the permit given to the stone quarries and crushers. According to this law the quarry is leased out for twenty or thirty years upon getting a permit under Forest Protection Act 1928 2(1) and, 2(3), 2003 (6) by the National Forest and Environment Department. However the officers facilitate the barons to surpass these laws and rules and lay paths to illegal mining and receive their share in the monetary benefits. Mining and geology departments have been transformed into transactional units. This explains the mushrooming of quarries in reserved forests, sanctuaries and environmentally sensitive places. It is with the blessings of the officials that the mining barons are successful in their illegal ventures, as these barons usually get permits only for crushers but they carry out mining with full impunity.
Illegal quarries are contributing to the environmental and noise pollution. Wildlife is losing its natural habitat and is entering cities. There is rampant deforestation due to the need for land to set up makeshift houses of the workers and paving roads to facilitate the transportation of gravel stones. Rivers are drying up due to the mining. Agricultural lands are being destroyed. The quality of soil is depleting. The locals are suffering with respiratory issues, hearing difficulties and wheezing. Since the influential local leaders and close associates of the politicians are the ones who own these mines, the loyal officers are hand tied. Harassing and intimidating the officers who dare to call out the illegal operations has been normalised.
Stone quarries are rampantly operating in Karavali’s Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttara Kannada, Bengaluru Urban, Bengaluru Rural, Ramanagar, Chikkaballapura, Koppala, Chamarajanagara, Mandya, Bidar, and Shivamogga. The recent Grama Panchayat elections was influenced by the black money of the stone quarry mafia.
According to the law, illegal miners are to be jailed for two years and are fined five lakhs. This is just on papers. The data of the government shows, in the last five years, the mining department has confiscated vehicles in eight hundred cases of illegal stone mining and has collected fines worth nine crore rupees. Stone worth thousands of crores of rupees is being transported with an agreement of mining barons, officers and politicians. In the last five years 1,126 cases of illegal mining have been registered. Most of these cases are suppressed. None of these accused are punished in the history of the mining department. Even if truck loads of gelatin is being transported day and night, the officials are silent.
Prahlad Joshi, the Union Minister if Mining speaking after the Shivamogga blast had said, ‘there is an understanding between the officers and the illegal mining.’ This statement made by the minister in open proves the existence of black market of quarrying.
A stone quarry in Naalkooru village of Brahmavar Taluk, Udupi district is owned by a close aide of a Bharatiya Janata Party’s legislator. This particular quarry is a best representative of the dangerous conditions of the legal and illegal stone mining. Mandarti Jilla Panchayat member Pratap Hegde and his brother Praveen Hegde are the favourite miners of Udupi legislator Raghupati Bhat. Praveen Hegde has invested fifteen crores and started Unity Rock Industries , a crusher and a stone quarry. A resorter named Joy was the one who started this company. The Hegde brothers were his partners. It is being said that a certain underworld don who passed recently had threatened Joy.
1.97 acres of land of survey number 27/7, 24/2, 24/8, 24/9 in Naalkooru village, leased out to Unity Rock Industries, is in the eco sensitive zone. When this was brought to light, Muniraju, the forest office of the Hebri sector, had undertaken a study and had suggested to cancel the registration of the Rock Industries. The officer had objected to the industries by noting that the quarry had expanded to the survey number 219/1 P1, which is deemed forest region. The report had said that the quarry was just 4.9 km away from the Someshwara Wildlife sector’s Tenkahola reserved forest; the report had insisted upon the closing of the quarry.
The current Forest Range Officer, has given in to the influential connections of the Hegde brothers and has remained silent regarding the illegal mining. Last year a worker from north India, of this quarry was found dead. It was said that he had died due to the thunderbolt. This quarry has constant gelatin blasts. It is being said that the quarry has a massive amount of gelatin stored in it. 250 lawries load of gravel stone is being transported everyday. This is a loot in the broad daylight.
First published in Naanugauri and translated by Yogesh S