More than 100 stone quarries in the district may be operating without the necessary licences.

A stone quarry can operate only after securing five licences from the Mining and Geology Department, Pollution Control Board, Explosives Department, Panchayat, and Revenue Department.

According to Mining and Geology Department, there are 240 licensed stone quarries in the district. That, however, is the number of quarries having the licence of the mining and geology department alone. It is learnt that not more than 150 of those quarries may be having all the other necessary permits. The number may be more if we count the unaccounted quarries operating with scant regard for licensing and other safety mechanisms.

That points to the slack monitoring of the quarries by the departments concerned. For instance, the Mining and Deology department inspects the quarries at the time of issuing licence but thereafter inspections become less frequent, thanks to its acute shortage of manpower and lack of infrastructure. The department has one geologist, two assistant geologists and a two-decade-old jeep to inspect 240 quarries under its watch.

Stone quarries are supposed to be inspected at least once in every two months by any one of the monitoring agencies, including the vigilance monitoring committee and the police. But how effectively this is being done can be assessed with Tuesday’s accident.

Manulal P. Ram, geologist, district Mining and Geology Department, said as per a new government order, neither fresh licence is issued nor is an existing licence renewed in cases where quarry operations extend beyond 20 feet below the ground level. Hence not more than three or four licences have been issued or renewed in the district in the last couple of months. In fact, as per the renewed guideline, licences of existing 40 quarries cannot be renewed, he said.

Department sources admit that without frequent inspection there is every possibility that even these 40 quarries may continue with their operations. The quarry at Perumbavoor where the accident occurred on Tuesday was not supposed to operate as the licence issued by the panchayat had expired in March. Besides, there was a ban on mining in force in the area.

Stone quarries are supposed to have a person with blastman certificate to trigger the blast. However, not all the quarries comply with this provision.

Mr. Manulal said the State had very few such qualified persons considering the fact that the Indian Bureau of Mines or Directorate General of Mines Safety that provides certifications like mines manager or blastsman had scant presence in the State. Now more certified people are coming in from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

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