The proposal to demarcate exclusive granite quarry zones (EQZs) in the State has generated a debate among stakeholders.

Environmentalists and stone quarry owners oppose the move, while experts in the field point out that it is sensible to have such zones.

A working group on disaster management set up by the government had proposed zones made up of cluster of quarries for streamlining their operation and to ensure their compliance with safety and environmental guidelines.

Recommending that the State government introduce a centralised exclusive quarry zone in each district, V.N. Sivasankara Pillai, former Director of the School of Environmental Studies at the Cochin University of Science and Technology, pointed out that the authorities could identify about 200 hectares in a place such as Ernakulam for setting up the facility.

“In other districts, it could be up to 120 hectares. A detailed environment impact assessment should be conducted before selecting the site. It can be a land which has low agricultural productivity value and low environmental sensitivity. The objective should be to identify a site that can be used for a period of 50 years in a phased manner,” he said. Dr. Pillai said that exclusive zones would have a spin-off effect on saving rivers, as they would allow large-scale production of manufactured sand as an alternative to natural sand. He drew attention to the problem posed by hundreds of abandoned quarries, which had turned into stagnant waterbodies, making their rehabilitation next to impossible.

However, John Peruvanthanam, environmental activist, staunchly opposes the idea of quarry zones, citing a variety of reasons. “The government is making such proposals without any geophysical studies. The increasing incidence of tremors in the State point at the enhanced vulnerability of the land, and mining activities only add to it. The aerial distance between Malampuzha and Thenmala is just 69 km and is marked with many big and small dams. Quarrying at the foot of these dams presents them with a clear and distinct danger,” he says.

Too many

Mr. Peruvanthanam says the18,000-odd stone quarries operating in the State are way too many for as densely populated a State like Kerala, Besides, only some 6,000 of them operate with licence. Small hills and mountains crucial to the microclimatic conditions of the State are getting levelled by quarries.

Vellinazhikan Prasad, general secretary, All Kerala Granite Quarry Association, says that while the concept is laudable, quarry zones are not practical considering the very nature of the industry. “Quarries need areas rich in stones, and such lands remain scattered across the State. As they cannot be physically moved for the sake of zones, it is likely that the idea will remain a non-starter,” he said.

Besides, areas suited for quarries are in the hands of a few players. They would rather like to have a monopoly over the industry rather than give space to small players, Mr. Prasad notes.

The State proposes that on the completion of quarrying, the quarry should be properly reclaimed or used for purposes such as rainwater harvesting. Quarries should comply with the environmental standards set by the State, including the decibel level.

A quarry plan, including an environmental management plan in tune with the mining plan, should be insisted on at the time of applying for quarrying lease. A proper green belt around the quarrying area as a protection against flying splinters, fencing of the quarry, and sounding of sirens before the blasts are some of the other guidelines proposed.