“PRP Exports had encroached on six tanks in Therkutheru”

The Madras High Court Bench in Madurai on Friday sought a comprehensive report from the State Government detailing steps taken by the departments of mines and minerals, revenue as well as the police with regard to the granite quarry scam in the district.

Justices P. P. S. Janarthana Raja and N. Vijayaraghavan asked Advocate General A. Navaneethakrishnan to file the report by August 22 and adjourned the hearing on a public interest litigation petition filed by a Chennai-based journalist V. Anbalagan seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the issue.

Earlier, the AG submitted a report by Madurai Collector Anshul Mishra who listed out the steps taken so far following former Collector U. Sagayam’s letter to the Industries Secretary on May 19 complaining about large scale illegalities and irregularities committed by three major granite firms here.

According to Mr. Mishra, a total of 175 quarries had been permitted on lease in the district and most of them were located in E. Malampatti, Keelavalavu and Keelaiyur villages of Melur taluk. The district administration began a full fledged probe following the former Collector’s letter and media reports.

Eighteen teams comprising zonal Deputy Tahsildars, Surveyors and officials from Mines Department and other technical staff of Rural Development Department were formed through an order passed by the Collector on August 1 and the teams were given the task of surveying and detecting violations, if any. The violations they were asked to look at specifically were: quarrying beyond the permitted area, encroachment of government land, illegal quarrying in government land, illegal quarrying in private lands, illegal quarrying in TAMIN properties and total quantity mined compared to actual permit issued.

Six zonal officers in the cadre of Deputy Collector were also appointed to monitor the work of the 18 teams and overall supervision was given to two officers in the rank of District Revenue Officer in order to ensure an accurate and transparent inspection.

The inspection began on August 2 and out of 175 quarries, 166 were inspected as on August 15. The enquiry revealed that 76 quarries had violated the permitted area, and almost all of them had violated the minimum safety distance to be maintained from human habitation. The miners had dumped their waste into many water bodies thereby leading to their destruction. “Most alarmingly, illegal mining has been done in government land and huge quantities of granite seems to have been mined, removed and sold without permission,” the Collector added.

He said that so far 12 cases had been registered by the police and 23 people had been arrested.

A request was made to the Commissioner of Geology and Mining to depute special teams comprising Assistant Geologist and Surveyor of Mines Department from other districts and those teams arrived on August 6.They were assisting the already existing teams since August 7. On August 9, the factory of PRP Exports, was raided and two of its office complexes were sealed in order to prevent destruction of evidences. A workshop belonging to the same firm was sealed on August 14.

During the inspections, the teams found out some stockyards of the exporter at Puduthamaraipatti, Tiruvadhavur, Keelaiyur, Keelavalavu and E. Mallampatti and the assessment of the stock of granite stones in those yards was in progress, Mr. Mishra said.

He pointed out that the private firm had encroached upon six water tanks spread over an area of 17. 20 acres at Therkutheru and Narasingampatti by dumping mined materials and filling them up to ground level after destroying the channels feeding water to those tanks.

However, the petitioner’s counsel A. John Vincent, assisted by M. Chockalingam, contended that the district administration had sprung into action only after Mr. Sagayam’s letter was made public by the petitioner who obtained it under the Right to Information Act. Pointing out that the government did not react for more than two months since the letter was written, he said that only a central agency such as the Central Bureau of Investigation would be in a better position to investigate the crime as large amounts of granite had been exported to many foreign countries.

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