Pulls up official for giving illegal permission to quarry ‘savudu soil’

Coming down on the Tiruvarur District Collector for granting “illegal” permission to a person to quarry ‘savudu soil’ (a type of soil), the Madras High Court observed that the Collector should protect the people’s interest.

Justice K.K. Sasidharan said the objections that groundwater level would drop, drinking water would turn salty and possible threat to the environment were all rejected outright as baseless. “The Collector behaved like an autocrat while negating the objection.” He should work in furtherance of public interest rather than to safeguard the private interest of a quarrying operator.

The petitioner, R. Mahesh, said he was a railway contractor and was doing earthwork for the railways and the ONGC. Since the material was available in plenty in Thillaivilagam village, Tiruvarur district, he purchased a site there for quarrying. The State-level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) granted clearance in May this year. After considering the clearance and related recommendations by the other authorities and after overruling the objections made by certain local people, the Collector granted permission on July 27, 2013.

When he started quarrying, Mathialagan, a panchayat member, and two others resisted the operations. He preferred a police complaint. The police wanted him to obtain court orders, the petitioner said.

The district administration did not file any counter. It did not produce records to satisfy the court that the procedure had been followed scrupulously before granting permission for quarrying.

Mr. Mathialagan submitted that the village panchayat had passed a resolution in April this year objecting to the quarrying proposal. It also stated that mandatory public hearing was not conducted, quarrying site was within three km of the Udayamarthandapuram bird sanctuary and seven km from the Muthupet mangroves and the water table would be severely affected due to quarrying.

Mr. Justice Sasidharan said the SEIAA failed to follow the mandatory requirement of public consultation, which was not an empty formality. “It is not possible to assess the environmental impact of a particular project by sitting in office.” The Collector failed to issue notice to the panchayat.

The panchayat member’s objection letter was rejected on flimsy grounds that the petitions were given with ulterior motives and the objections were baseless. There was no material in the Collector’s order indicating his inspection of the site before granting permission.

Police protection could be given only to protect a right accrued legally. It could not be used to create a right, the Judge said and dismissed the petition.

  • “The Collector should protect the people’s interest”

  • “The panchayat member’s objection letter was rejected on flimsy grounds”