Puthusseripara residents are asked to "co-operate" or "adjust" with the quarry owners.

For the past six months, Suhail has been waking up to the smell of gunpowder.

The 11-year-old mentally challenged boy would look desperately around for his mother in their small home situated near a granite quarry on Puthusseripara at Unnikulam grama panchayat in Koyilandy taluk here.  

If he failed to find her, he would run out in the direction of the loud explosions from the quarry until one of his neighbours would spot the boy climbing up the granite rock face and bring him back.

“He is a restless boy. He freezes in shock whenever there is a blast. Sometimes, he cries loudly and runs in the direction of the quarry,” his mother Suhara says as she holds Suhail tightly to her. Even the flashbulbs of the camera unsettle the boy, who tries to break free of his mother — his face a picture of anxiety.

Suhail is just one of the casualties of indiscriminate licensing of quarries by local bodies in rural Kozhikode. There are over 360 quarries, large and small, in the district.

Some time back, before the Puthusseripara Granite Works took over, the women of the 20 houses in the neighbourhood used the rock face to dry their clothes. Now a grey dust shrouds the rock face.

With every blast from the quarry, the rustic neighbourhood has slowly changed into a battleground-like landscape.

Here the written law is thrown to the winds.  

The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 mandates that the  boundary of a quarry should be fenced before operation of quarrying activity. There is no sign of a fence here. This is when the Explosives Rules 2008 prescribes a safety distance of only 45 metres between high explosives’ charges and dwelling houses.

Again, the law calls for the use of water sprinklers to suppress the dust. There is none here.

The law prescribes that suitable species of trees and curtain plants shall be planted and maintained within and along the periphery of the quarry premises, forming a green belt. There is no sign of any.

And the least, the law says that a “signboard showing the name of the establishment should be placed at the entrance of the site.” But there is none visible.

Instead, residents are asked to “co-operate” or “adjust” with the quarry owners.

“Agreed, quarries are not supposed to be near populated places. But it is usually an adjustment between the local people and the quarry owners. A matter of give-and-take,” K.P. Shyni, Unnikulam panchayat president, said. She is hazy about the quarry in question. This is when the final permission for granting permission for a quarry rests with the local panchayat.

But T.M. Ashraf, secretary of the residents’ association formed to fight the quarry, said there was no room for ‘give-and-take.’

“Our lives are in danger. Our houses are developing cracks. There is no drinking water in our wells. What is left to adjust? ” he asks. Six months ago, when quarrying started, Mr. Ashraf left his job as a chef in Bangalore to represent the 20 families, mostly daily wage labourers.

RTI applications

His Right to Information (RTI) applications saw the local panchayat do a flip-flop on permission for the quarry.

In its March 2013 response to an RTI, the panchayat said it has no information about the coming of quarry on the rock face. Eight months later, a second RTI sees the panchayat do a complete U-turn, this time identifying the quarry licence holder by name.

This is when a separate RTI query with the Kerala State Pollution Control Board revealed that the family who owned Puthusseripara had given its consent to quarry 12 cents of the rock face way back in December 2012.

“So why were we kept in the dark by the panchayat for over eight months, from March to November 2013?” Mr. Ashraf asks.

Ms. Shyni counters that the residents had never approached the panchayat’s governing committee with any complaints. She says she will consult the ward councillor on this issue.

Legal battle

Meanwhile, Mr. Ashraf is contemplating a legal battle to protect his neighbourhood. But he has attracted enemies in the course of his campaign. “There are threats. Unknown people knock on our windows when he is not there. In the mornings, condoms and liquor bottles litter our front yard,” Abida Ashraf, his wife, said.

Ms. Abida has lodged a complaint with the Superintendent of Police (Rural) of their condition.   

“I don’t want to leave here. But I want to be a normal person. If I continue to live here, I don’t know how long I can remain normal,” she said.

But O. Sivarajan, the quarry licence holder, denies any attempt to intimidate the neighbourhood. He said he had already surrendered his quarry licence owing to the protest by residents. But documents issued by the Geology Department showed that his quarry permit was anyway going to expire on January 29, 2014,

“It was only a small quarry. I had one worker there. Their claim that I was harassing them is baseless. There are personal issues between the land owning family and the people who live there. I don’t want to get in between. I heard that someone from the family itself is now applying for licence,” Mr. Sivarajan said.

But Saheera, a local Kudumbasree volunteer, said the neighbourhood was not going to give up soon.

“If things don’t change, we will march to the quarry in protest. Let them blast us to death,” she said.

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