Alappuzha: In a major respite to the residents of Mattappally in Nooranad near Mavelikkara, which has been in the eye of a storm over the soil extraction for the National Highway project, the High Court on Friday imposed an interim ban on mining at the ecologically sensitive site.
Considering a writ appeal in this regard, a two-member bench consisting of Chief Justice A J Desai and Justice V G Arun directed that no further mining activities should be carried out at the site until further orders. The order was based on a report filed by Alappuzha district collector John V Samuel on the legitimacy of the mining operations at the site. The case is now slated for further hearing on January 4.
The court, meanwhile, also asked the Principal Secretary of the Industries Department, along with four other members who have been selected by him, to prepare a report on the issues involved in mining soil from the site.
“The committee shall undertake this exercise at the earliest, and a copy of the report shall be supplied to all concerned before the next posting date,” reads the order.
Earlier, the district collector flagged lapses on the part of the Department of Mining and Geology in permitting soil extraction at the site. In a report submitted to the state government, the official pointed out that the department issued the mining permit without following the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) laid down by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change. It also noted how the Geology Department had ignored a study conducted by the Centre for Earth Science Studies in 2009 into the environmental vulnerability of the region.
The report, at the same time, found at least a couple of allegations raised by the locals, including the site’s proximity to a water tank, to be misleading. The government had sought a detailed report from the Collector after residents hit the streets in protest against the removal and transportation of soil from Mattappally by levelling a hillock. It had also entrusted the Collector to convince the court about the ecologically fragile nature of the location, the hill’s role in ensuring drinking water and previous natural calamities reported in the area.
The Kerala government and the High Court earlier permitted soil extraction from Mattappally. Following this, the residents filed an appeal in court challenging the single bench order.
Residents back out of protest
Meanwhile, the indefinite day-night protest against the mining under the aegis of Samyuktha Samara Samithi, which entered the 12th day on Friday, has been postponed in view of the High Court order.
The mining at Mattappally first came to light after residents clashed with the police on November 10. Following the protest, authorities were forced to suspend soil extraction at the site, and the suspension was later extended through a decision taken by an all-party meeting held on November 16. However, the contractor resumed soil extraction from the hill on November 27, forcing residents to hit the roads in protest. The extraction of soil from the site has been halted since.