Villagers and quarry workers say their livelihood is at stake

With incessant noise and plumes of dust emanating from the sides of the campus, several students and faculty members of Bearys Institute of Technology (BIT) staged a demonstration on Tuesday against the illegal quarrying around the campus. Three laterite brick quarries surround the campus at Innoli near Konaje, with the one directly behind the hostels being especially contentious.

Hibza Khousal, a first year computer science student from Bangalore, said the noise was loud at times, and interfered with their classes. Similarly, batchmate Rizma Banu said the dust was leading to respiratory problems among students.

Sainath M., Director of the campus, was worried about the impact the quarries might have on the accreditation of the college. “Our college can also lose its affiliation if the AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) finds the campus noisy or dusty,” he said.

Though this has been a problem ever since the college had started four years ago, the authorities took the matter up with the Department of Mines and Geology after the quarry sites started to move closer to the campus.

The other side

On the other side of the protests are villagers and quarry workers who insisted that this was the only occupation they could undertake. For the past 30 years, Thimmappa has been hired by various small mining outfits to cut the bricks, and load them into the truck. “We get Rs. 1 per brick loaded, and each can load about 250 red bricks in a day… Agriculture is not possible here, and we have no other employment opportunity,” he said.

The villagers, who own tracts of unused land on the hillocks, routinely call upon miners to excavate the stone in return for a fee, he said. All around are marks of ‘exhausted’ quarry sites.

In a quarry site, three truck loads of bricks — or 250 red bricks per truck — are taken out every day. Each truck load can go for more than Rs. 4,500. “Around 1,000 people in the area are dependent on this,” he said.

Richard D’Souza, who was identified as the head of the quarrying unit, claimed he had leased out the land so that it could be “made fit for agricultural” purposes.

Confirming that the mines were illegal, officials at the Department of Mines and Geology said the issue was common in the district. “The soil is iron rich, and because of the rocks there is no absorption of water. The villagers remove the rocks, and replace it with fertile top soil. However, for commercially selling the bricks, a licence is needed, which is not taken in most cases,” said a geologist.

However, as per the rules, a nominal fine is levied, and the department cannot initiate criminal action against the miners, said the official.

More In: Mangaluru