Seventeen deaths at Pappuchettypalem quarry in Golugonda mandal during early 90s, two deaths officially declared but many more that did not come to light at Karaka quarry in the same mandal in 2005 and now three deaths at Nallabellikonda quarry in GK Veedhi mandal, bring into focus once again the illegal quarrying for semi-precious stones in Visakha Agency.
The illegal activity has been going on for a long time but there is hardly any check on it.
After the disaster that has drawn nation-wide attention, the Government gave licence for quarrying at Pappuchettypalem but in the rest of places people with connections form the highest to the village levels are organising the illegal quarrying and making huge sums money, say the locals.
A proposal made in the past to organise digging for semi-precious stones by Girijan youths by forming societies for them did not progress and the illegal mining continued bringing in lot of money to those who organise it and the traders.
It is alleged that illegal quarrying is continuing at some places in Chintapalli and GK Veedhi mandals and also at Karaka.
The police can not rush to an illegal mining area as they like because of the threat from the Maoists while the Forest Department which has under its control the forests and hills is not adequately staffed and the terrain is also a big hindrance. There are also allegations that the officials who should control illegal mining are in league with those who organise the mining.
Visakha Agency is endowed with many precious and rare natural resources and the semi-precious stones are one of them.
Alex type of stones is mostly found in Karaka area and cat's eye at other places. Both fetch a lot of returns to the brokers and businessmen.
Poor villagers, most of them Girijans, are engaged in quarrying which is done in unscientific method. Since big machinery is not required or engaged for fear of being noticed, the quarrying goes on unchecked. Quarrying at Nallabellikonda is going on for the last three to four months. The quarry is located at a height of 200 meters on a steep hill.
Quarrying is mostly done at night under the light of oil lamps or big torches. But at Nallabellikonda, it is being done during day time also. Girijans are unknowingly putting their life at stake, tempted by the wages of a few hundreds for a day or night or a big amount they can get if a stone of high value is found.
Some syndicates in Narsipatnam are allegedly organising the illegal mining by engaging villagers around the mines.
The semi-precious stones are sold to businessmen from Mumbai, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and other places. Visakhapatnam is also one of the hubs for trading and some people were caught in the past with semi-precious stones.
The businessmen sell the semi-precious stones at huge profit, the returns they get is hundred times more than what they pay the middlemen at Narsipatnam.