Licensed granite miners have extracted more of the scarce natural resource than they should from the government sanctioned quarries in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts in Kerala, according to the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) investigators.

The massive fraud, which has caused irreversible environmental damage in vast swathes of hilly land in the two districts, came to light last week when VACB investigators used the latest land survey instruments, arguably for the first time, to quantify the amount of granite excavated from several quarries.

Investigators said they found that the miners had excavated granite well below the ground level in violation of their licence conditions and extracted stone much above the limit they were permitted to. In one telling case, the VACB found that a miner had excavated 100 metric tonnes of the granite in excess but was fined only for 10.

The local officials renewed his mining licence without any objection after he paid the nominal fine. The pattern has been the same in other cases also.

The estimated loss to the government, which was yet to be fully quantified, could be ‘huge,’ an investigator said.

In many localities, miners had bought hillocks from small land holders, clubbed the properties as one, procured excavation licences on the sly and systematically denuded the vegetation and top soil to dig out the granite for blasting.

The VACB found that in many cases the police had given clearance to miners to stock and use explosives for blasting rock without checking whether the excavation sites were within 100 m of pathways and human habitation. Even miners without magazines to store gun powder and fuses were accorded licences to blast rock.

Investigators said that trained mine workers with licence to blast rock were scarce. The available few charged highly for their services. The ‘blasting licencees’ would sub-contract their work to their relatively inexperienced juniors. Their shoddy work had resulted in cave-ins in quarries, which have claimed at least 30 lives in the past two years.

Investigators said many quarry owners used heavy duty mechanised drills to bore deep holes in granite formations for largescale blasting, which destabilised structures, chiefly homes, in the vicinity and polluted air and water above the permissible limit.

The law insists that granite should be mined in a 45 degree angle from top to bottom and no excavation should be done below the ground level.

It was seen observed more in the breach, they said. In many parts, the VACB noted that dubious businessmen bought small rubber plantations and denuded them for the granite below.

Such illegal quarries were rampant in rubber growing hilly areas of Madavoor, Karavaram, Ilamba Mudackal, Pallickal and Vellarada villages (all in Chirayankeezhu taluk) and Nedumangadu and Ayiroorpara villages in Nedumangadu and Mukkunimala in Thiruvananthapuram.

Superintendent of Police S. S. Firoz and Dy.SP. Rex Bobby Arwin headed the inspections.