Decision to extend permit, lease of quarries derails court verdict

Pathanamthitta hill
This hill from Thottapuzhassery panchayat in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala has been carved and dented beyond repair in a decade's time. File photo: Aravind Venugopal/Manorama

Kollam: The state government's decision to extend the permit and mining lease of quarries by one year has led to the derailing of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order fixing 200 metres distance from human habitation for new quarries and the other conditions laid down by the high court.

The National Green Tribunal order fixing 200 metres distance from human habitation was issued on July 21, 2020. The High Court while considering the plea submitted by the quarry owners and government, had set aside the NGT order and gave the direction that the quarries can continue to operate as per the existing stipulation of 50 metres till the final verdict came out.

However, the high court ordered that the NGT stipulation should be complied with in applications for renewing mining lease and permit besides applications for a mining lease and permit for new quarries.

With the government deciding to extend the permit and lease by 1 year all quarries can now comply with 50 metres distance norm. Otherwise while considering applications for the next year's permit renewal the 200 distance norm would have come into existence.

In the name of COVID-19 and under the garb of extending permit and lease, the government resorted to a clever move to help the quarry owners circumvent the High Court and NGT orders.

The government extended the permit and lease for quarry owners at record speed. The government issued the order after getting applications written by owners of quarries and crushers.

Even though the first order was issued on February 12, the quarry owners had informed about the technical difficulties in carrying out operations on the strength of that order.

Subsequently, the Mining and Geology director issued a fresh order on February 22 bringing more clarity on the issue. It is learnt that huge fund collection had taken place among the quarry owners in different districts for this purpose.

In the capital district Thiruvananthapuram, a private establishment was the centre for all transactions. Senior officers of the Mining and Geology department acted as middlemen during these transactions, it is alleged.

It is pointed out that the orders issued by the Industries department and the Mining and Geology department without quoting the provisions of the Kerala Minor Mineral Concession Act will not stand legal scrutiny. The order is likely to be challenged.

Industries department declines to react

The Industries department has declined to react to the controversy over extending the lease and permit of quarries by one year under the garb of Central Government notification on extending environment clearance.

The officials of the industries department have been directed not to react to media questions on this issue. The Industries department has issued the gag order fearing that the decision might result in corruption allegations against the government.

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