Despite the recent Supreme Court order staying the injunction order of the Kerala High Court against the National Green Tribunal (NGT) norms on distance between quarries and the nearest residential area, illegal stone quarrying continues unabated in the State, say environmentalists. “As soon as the order was issued on August 25, we had informed the Kerala State Pollution Control Board about the same. But, the Board seems to have been inactive as it could not put a stop to blasting in quarries violating norms,” says T.V. Rajan, secretary of the All Kerala River Protection Committee, which is one of the parties in the case supporting the NGT order.
The issue began with a group of local people in Muthalamada, Palakkad, organising a signature campaign against a quarry in their locality and forwarding it with a petition to the Prime Minister, with supporting documents, requesting putting an end to the threat posed by the quarry to their homes. A copy of the same was forwarded to the NGT, based on which the Tribunal suo motu registered a case.
In March this year, the NGT passed an order stating that there should be at least 200 metres distance between a quarry and the nearest house. The Tribunal took into account reports from Pollution Control Boards in various States on the issue and found that most States maintained a distance of 200 to 300 metres between the quarries and the nearest residences, while in Kerala the distance was only 50 metres.
However, quarry owners questioned the order in the Kerala High Court on the ground that their side was never heard and that stone quarrying was a necessary evil if the construction sector and road works were to thrive.
The High Court then altered and issued a partial injunction of the order of the Tribunal, according to which it was applicable only to new quarries and also those renewing their licenses.
Meanwhile, the quarry owners filed a petition in the Supreme Court questioning the authority of the NGT in taking up an issue based on a complaint to the Prime Minister. The group from Muthalamada and another from Pathanamthitta besides the All Kerala River Protection Committee had joined as party in the case.
“We have won the first phase of the case since we could lift the injunction. Now the distance norm is applicable to all quarries, not just the new ones,” says Mr. Rajan, adding that the Supreme Court will be informed about the non-compliance of quarries during the hearing on September 1.