Andhra Pradesh

Dark underbelly of Guntur’s illegal limestone mining

The natural white limestone is used in paints, floor tiles and cements.   | Photo Credit: T. Vijaya Kumar

The muddy road to the limestone quarries at Konanki village near Piduguralla town, 65 km away from Guntur in Andhra Pradesh is littered with chips of shimmering white stone.

Anjaneyulu, 65, a farmer from Bodhanam village, trudges past the vast expanse of natural white limestone blocks along the railway tracks. He was cultivating chilli on his 1.5 acre farm till 2011, when Bodhanam was included in the list of eight villages downstream of the Pulichintala project. The village was eventually submerged in 2013.

With a house in Konanki’s Pulichintala Relief and Rehabilitation Colony, he now makes a living rearing four buffaloes.

Battered land: Seetharamapuram in Guntur’s Piduguralla mandal has been hit hard by indiscriminate quarrying of limestone. Officials say 31 lakh tonnes of limestone have been quarried since 2000.

Battered land: Seetharamapuram in Guntur’s Piduguralla mandal has been hit hard by indiscriminate quarrying of limestone. Officials say 31 lakh tonnes of limestone have been quarried since 2000.   | Photo Credit: T. Vijaya Kumar


“We were never allowed on this road till the last week of July. Hundreds of tractors and lorries used to ply on this road carrying white stone. We used to spend sleepless nights due to the deafening noise of blasting explosives,” recalls Mr. Anjaneyulu.

Severe strictures passed by the High Court late last month on a PIL petition filed by former MLC TVG Krishna Reddy in 2016, seeking action against the illegal mining, has put a stop to the plunder of resources in Palnadu.

On July 25, a division bench of the High Court led by Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan not only passed severe strictures against the State government but also impleaded the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Union Mining Ministry in the case. The next hearing is scheduled for August 21.

Gurazala TDP MLA Yerapathaneni Srinivasa Rao, a respondent in the PIL petition filed by Mr. Krishna Reddy, now faces allegations of masterminding the illegal mining of white stone and limestone at Konanki and Kesanupalli villages in Piduguralla and Dachepalli mandals.

Exploitation unchecked

For years, the vast expanse of natural white limestone under the earth has been excavated by local people. The pulverised stone was used as an essential feed in poultry farms, as a component in paints and distemper, and as aggregate in floor tiles.

In 1959, the A.P. government issued 20-year leases to the Associated Cement Companies Ltd. for land at Konanki and Piduguralla villages.

By 1994, the total land leased out to the company stood at 644.11 acres. ACC, which used the white limestone at its Krishna Cement Factory in Vijayawada later stopped mining following the closure of the cement factory. Subsequently, when applications for renewal of mining leases were rejected, the gates were thrown open for illegal mining.

What began as small operations by local communities soon attained monstrous proportions. Huge quantities of explosives were used to open up the veins and earth movers lifted huge blocks of limestone.

The boom came after the 2014 elections. A tonne of white stone costs ₹500 in the open market with the Mining Department getting ₹67 as seigniorage fees per tonne. However, locals say an average of 120 tractors, each carrying a load of four tonnes, used to ply on the road to Konanki every day in illegal operations.

In 2011, the ex-sarpanch of Konanki village, Annapureddy Hanimi Reddy, wrote to the then Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy seeking directions to curb the rampant illegal mining.

With no action forthcoming, Mr. Hanimi Reddy filed a complaint in 2015 with the Lok Ayukta, who in turn asked the Director of Investigations to inquire into the issue. In a scathing report in 2016, the Director of Investigations, K. Narasimha Reddy indicted the district administration and the Mines and Geology Department. Mr. Reddy also said the District Collector, who heads the district task force on illegal mining, had failed to take action against the local MLA in spite of the high court order in PIL no 228/2015.

Another local K. Guravachari filed yet another PIL petition after which the court issued an order asking the “concerned authorities to assess the loss caused to the public exchequer through illegal mining/quarrying and see that a liability can be fixed and loss in terms of royalty with penalty within six months.” The order again went unheeded.

“The MLA (Yerapathaneni Srinivasa Rao) and his henchmen used to collect ₹1,000 per tractor every day at an unauthorised check post on the road leading to the mine. Even if 100 tractors operate every day, the collection used to be around ₹1 lakh per day,” alleges Mr. Hanimi Reddy.

In a blatant violation of mining regulations, there was indiscriminate use of explosives in a Maoist-affected area without the mandatory checks. Regulations mandate that explosives and detonators should be procured only from licensed explosive dealers and the blasting supervised by a certified blaster.

The loss caused to the public exchequer could run into hundreds of crores of rupees, say experts.

Mr. Yerapathaneni Srinivasa Rao is considered a strongman in the ruling TDP and remains vital to its fortunes in the region. Nearly three weeks after the HC order, the MLA asserted at a press conference in Guntur that he had no role in illegal mining.

Satellite evidence

During the hearing, Mr. Krishna Reddy produced satellite images from the National Remote Sensing Centre to gauge the extent of the pillage. The Digital Elevation Models (DEM) of the surface and volumetric change estimates revealed that 28.92 lakh metric tonnes of precious white limestone had been excavated causing huge loss to the exchequer.

Following the July 25 HC order, District Collector Kona Sasidhar asked the Revenue and Mining departments to conduct a fresh survey of lands and estimate the quantity of minerals excavated.

His August 14, 2018 report stated that 31.30 lakh metric tonnes of white stone and limestone have been illegally excavated in Konanki village of Piduguralla mandal and Kesanupalli and Nadikudi villages of Dachepalli mandals, causing huge loss to the government in seigniorage fees, royalty and penalty.

Following the report, the State government ordered a CB-CID inquiry. Director General of Police R.P. Thakur announced a Special Investigation Team into the illegal mining.

Based on a report by the Assistant Director of Mines, Dachepalli, B. Jagannadha Rao, cases were filed against 17 persons — 11 persons in Piduguralla and six persons in Dachepalli. Local leaders however, pointed out that most of the accused were from poor families lured by money and promised a safe exit by the MLA.

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 6:25:59 AM |

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