New mining rules trigger outrage

The revised mining rules issued by the Industries Department last week have triggered widespread concern among the public and drawn criticism of experts and environmental activists who feel that the government has gone out of its way to dilute environmental regulations for quarries.

One of the major amendments to the Kerala Minor Mineral Concession rules involves the restoration of the minimum permissible distance limit for quarries to 50 metres from roads, rivers and houses, reversing the decision of the previous UDF regime to double the distance limit to 100 metres.

“The government has evidently come under pressure from the mining lobby to dilute environmental norms,” says V.S. Vijayan, enviromental activist and former chairman, Kerala State Biodiversity Board. “The new rules will be disastrous for Kerala.

“The decision to reduce the distance limit to 50 metres is also likely to trigger unrest from residents in the neighbourhood of quarries.”

Says C.N. Mohanan, former head of the Environmental Sciences division at the National Centre for Earth Science Studies, “The original KMMC rules were framed in 1967, at a time when the population density was low, construction activity was minimal and manual methods were used for mining. The use of heavy machinery and explosives today call for enhanced safeguards, but unfortunately, the government seems to have taken a step in the wrong direction.”

‘Violation of rights’

Lawyer and environmental activist Harish Vasudevan feels that the new rules are illogical and unacceptable. “A heavily- populated State like Kerala cannot afford to lower the safety standards for mining. It amounts to violation of fundamental rights that can be challenged in Court.” He points out that most neighbouring States have fixed the permissible limit for mining at 250 to 300 metres.

Mr.Vasudevan observes that the government had also failed to consider the recommendations of the High Court for continuous monitoring of mining activities and compounding of guidelines.

“The new rules will give a fresh lease of life to quarries but people who have just experienced the worst drought in recent years are panic- stricken and becoming restive,” says Dr. Mohanan.

Short-term permits

Experts also feel that the Government should have abolished the short-term mining permits under the Consolidated Royalty Payment (CRP) system that had allowed most of the illegal quarries in the State to function.