Meghalaya: Good news for environmentalists! Dozens of stone quarries in 2 GH districts faces closure
TURA, Mar 21: Stone quarrying in the Garo Hills region of Meghalaya has become a major point of contention due to vast nature of illegal activities that follow such quarrying.
However, the crack down on stone quarries by the district administrations of West and South West Garo Hills will come as a warm and heartening news to environmentalists in Garo Hills.
The two district administrations have once again begun a drive to stop the illegal mining of stones in the two district, following amendments to the state's laws on minor minerals.
Various sections of society had earlier pointed fingers at the administration as well as the police for allowing illegal quarrying of stones to continue despite orders from the administration.
A serious note on the matter was first taken after visit by the chief minister, Dr Mukul Sangma after the devastating floods of September 2014, when unstopped quarrying threatened various villages close to the Assam-Meghalaya boundary on the AMPT road. Most quarries are situated in the same belt and have been operating without papers for years altogether, with most unscrupulous owners belonging to Assam and carrying on benami transactions.
"We had earlier given an order to all these quarries to shut down and get their documentation in order before restarting operations. Most however came to us with some documents and sought some time before getting them all. We have waited and watched for over 2 years now and the trend has continued. We thereby began to crackdown on all of these operators and shut them down," said deputy commissioner of WGH, Pravin Bakshi.
The DC further cited the NGT and Pollution Control Board (PCB) norms for the setting up of quarries and crushers, which stipulate crushers to be placed at least 100 metres away from the road and quarries to be at least 500 metres from the road side.
"The norms need to be followed and we are strictly adhering to it. The quarry owners need to get the necessary documentation for the operation of their units and all NOCs have to be provided before they are allowed to run," added Bakshi.
Over the past few days, a team comprising of magistrates, EACs and DSPs have been tasked with visiting the sites of the stone quarries to check on papers and shut down those that have been running illegally.
"It is very inclusive team and has everyone involved in ensuring the law is followed. While earlier we had sought a shut down, matters were not taken seriously and some of these unscrupulous characters would shut down operation for about a week before resuming them again. This time there will be no let up. We have given them enough time to get their papers in order," added Bakshi.
Terming the crackdown as a huge relief, the president of Centre for Environment Protection and Rural Development (CEPARD), SR Sangma said, "This is something we have been fighting for and hopefully will be the start of good things for the region. We hope the other districts follow suit and ensure that such illegal acts are not promoted."
More than 150 stone quarries and stone crushers dot the entire stretch of road from near Garobadha right until Hallidayganj with more than 90% of them operating illegally with most of the produce going to neighbouring Bangladesh.
"While most of them cite domestic consumption, it is a well known fact that they are exporting stone to Bangladesh, mostly through illegal means. Hopefully the focus will not be lost after this," added Avinash Marak, another member of CEPARD.