The Department of Mining and Geology, which is reeling under acute staff shortage, has suffered yet another setback with the State government rejecting its proposal seeking sanction for four additional squads to intensify inspection of stone quarries across Kerala.
At present, the department has three squads to cover 14 districts, in addition to one main office in each district.
The proposal, if accepted, would have taken the number of squads to seven, thus enabling each squad to monitor two districts each.The proposal forwarded by the Department of Industries, under which the Mining and Geology Department comes, was turned down by the Finance Department. A senior geologist told The Hindu that the proposal appeared almost through when it was rejected to the utter disappointment of the department.
He said financial obligations resulting from the creation of new posts could hardly be the ground for rejecting the proposal. Creating new posts in the department would not cause additional burden on the State exchequer, he added.
A squad is made up of five members – a geologist, an assistant geologist, an inspector, a driver, and a peon — and their combined salary may account for just over Rs.1 lakh.
But each of these squads would have generated a monthly revenue of about Rs. 3-4 lakh by way of fine, he said.The proposal for additional squads was forwarded when an earlier one for sanctioning sub-offices of Mining and Geology Department at taluk levels was turned down a year ago. Again, the proposal was stonewalled citing financial obligations.
The existing staff is under tremendous pressure and geologists are reluctant to work in quarry-intensive districts. “Periodic inspection of quarries is not possible with the existing staff strength. But the department staff is put under the scanner when accidents occur,” the official said.
The recent quarry accident in Perumbavur in Ernakulam, which tops the list of districts in terms of density of stone quarries, brings into focus this problem.
For a district teeming with quarries, both licensed and unlicensed, the department has just a single office with a staff strength of 10. Of this, only three – geologist and two assistant geologists – are capable of undertaking field visits.
The other posts are that of a mineral revenue inspector, two clerks, a typist, a peon, a part-time sweeper, a night watcher-cum-peon and a driver.
The rejection of the proposal for taluk-level sub-offices has come as a severe blow to the department. “Forget the sub-offices, sanctioning at least an assistant geologist each in quarry-intensive taluks alone would help put in place a proper and periodic monitoring mechanism,” said Manulal P. Ram, district geologist.
Kunnathunadu, Aluva, Muvattupuzha, and Kothamangalam taluks have the highest concentration of quarries in the district, with each accounting for an average of 50 quarries.