5 firms likely to ask for rethink on application to open new quarries

As many as five firms may ask for reconsideration of their application for opening new granite quarries in Western Ghats, invoking an order of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest.

The applications of firms for opening new quarries in Kumili and Udumbanchola areas in Idukki, Muthalamada and Akathethara in Palakkad and Kozhanchery in Pathanamthitta were rejected earlier as the areas proposed for quarrying fell under the Ecologically Sensitive Zone as defined by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel.

The applications of these quarries, which were rejected by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) earlier, might have to be reconsidered as the government had in principle accepted the Kasturirangan report, Authority sources said.

The recently released directions of the Ministry had stated that applications for mining, quarrying, sand mining and thermal power plants, which were pending with the SEIAA before April 17, 2013, shall be considered “under the guidelines and rules applicable at the time of application.” It was on this date that the Ministry published the Kasturirangan panel report on its website. Since these applications were rejected by invoking the WGEEP report, which was now not in force, their applications might have to be reconsidered if they press for it, sources said.

WGEEP report had classified the Western Ghats into three zones based on the ecological sensitivity scores. It had included areas of highest ecological significance in Zone One.

The WGEEP report was considered for processing the applications of these firms as directed by the National Green Tribunal. These applications will now have to be reconsidered even though it was likely to fall in the Ecologically Sensitive Areas identified by the Kasturirangan report, as no such categorisation was in force when these firms had submitted their applications, sources said.

Meanwhile, the Authority has delisted 14 quarries for failing to comply with the guidelines issued for obtaining environment clearance. Of the 97 applications received so far, the authority has issued environmental clearance to 26 quarries and rejected the applications of seven others. The decisions to reject and delist the quarries were taken after field visits and scrutiny of documents, said an official.

The Union Ministry of Environment had asked all the quarries in the State to seek environmental clearance from the Authority before December 31. Some applications were rejected as the miners had fragmented the contiguous areas of quarrying for escaping the provisions of public hearing. Going by the guidelines, public hearing was mandatory for obtaining environmental clearance for all quarries above the operational area of 10 hectares.

Even while rejecting or delisting the quarries, there was no system to check whether these firms had stopped operations. The government was sitting on a suggestion for slapping one-time application fee for environmental clearance of quarries. A proposal for making the quarries share a portion of their profits for setting up manned level crossings across the State had also failed to evoke any response from the authorities, sources said.

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