Government loses crores of rupees worth of royalty from quarrying; international traders rake it in

An RTI query has revealed that Pune has no record of royalty from quarrying, that has caused loss of at least Rs2,000 crore. Global traders are selling precious mineral stones from quarries across Maharashtra—each miniature costing between $300-$3,000

Pune city leads in construction activity in the country and the 698 quarries in the district is an apt reflection of it. Being tucked in the basin, Pune is surrounded with hills which have become prime targets not only for indiscriminate and illegal quarrying (there are nearly 300 quarries operating, though the validity of their license is over) but also for alleged illegal sale of rare and exquisite mineral stones found in the quarrying sites particularly that of the Wagholi and Pashan neighbourhood of Pune. These are openly sold through Internet sites across the world: (www.irocks.com,www.mindat.com) being a couple of leading sites.
 
While other countries are extremely strict about quarrying rules and regulations, the example of Pune portrays the complete disregard to this aspect which also has serious environmental repercussions besides indiscriminate looting of natural mineral wealth-this despite the fact that the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has laid down stringent guidelines in December 2006.

 In the State of Maine, USA for example, besides strict mining laws (quarrying comes under it), thewww.maine.gov.in site states that, ``in addition to the general land-use regulations restricting activities that impact such areas as wetlands, beaches, dunes, water bodies, significant wildlife habitat, or other environmentally sensitive areas, there are specific Maine statutes and rules about excavation, mining, and quarrying.'' These include the limited permission for quantity of quarrying, groundwater protection, natural buffer strips for protected natural resources, erosion and sedimentation control, surface water protection and storm water management, noise, dust control etc.
 
Right to Information activist Vijay Kumbhar was exploring the idea of suggesting to the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), the idea of using abandoned quarries for landfill sites for the disposal of the city's garbage. For this, he conducted inspection of files under Section (4) of the RTI Act to find out the number of quarries- working and abandoned-in and around Pune and those that have been abandoned. To his utter shock, Sanjay Bamne, the mining officer in the Collector's office specially appointed to govern the quarrying operations in the district, declined information. He then filed a complaint at the Information Commission, Pune division which ordered him to make the information public.

Mr Kumbhar also sent a letter to the Collector of Pune stating that
"[A] vast number of illegal quarrying and excavation is going on in and around Pune. Large number of hills, mountains and lands are being excavated without any necessary permission. Actually all such permissions and extensions to them fall under Section (4) of the RTI Act and administration is bound by it to disseminate such information. However, when I went to the district administration for inspection of such documents, the officer didn't show me any document. Then I filed a complaint with the State Information Commission and have also filed an application under the RTI Act.
 
"In Wagholi, around 10 to 12 kilometres of area is being excavated for quarrying. Each quarry depth is around more than 100 metres. These quarries are visible from satellites also. Most of these quarries are running illegally.

"In Ghotawade near Paud, the Sahyadri Hills are being excavated, Katraj hill in Pune has already been destroyed.

"Pollution related norms/conditions have not been followed by any of the above. (I tried to find some information on the MPCB website, but it was updated long back on 1 September 2009).

"I don't say that every instance of digging or excavation is illegal, but if these activities are legal, why is the district administration hiding the information? What is the harm in disseminating information about how many of those are legal? Have they taken all the necessary permissions? How much royalty they have paid? Actually, all this information must be seen on the website.

"I hope you will take serious note of this letter and ask the district administration to disseminate the necessary information and take action on the illegal quarries and excavations." Thereafter, the Collector of Pune has ordered the survey of quarrying activities in Pune district.

Kumbhar states that, "I would never have known there is a scandal in this issue if the officer had supplied me the basic information of the number of abandoned quarries. The fact that he was avoiding information set me thinking about other aspects of mining rules. I found out that the excavator has to pay royalty charges to the district administration for quarrying purposes."  

When subsequently the officer supplied information to Mr Kumbhar, it was revealed that 2,500 acres of area in Pune district is used for quarrying—which is equal to 10 crore sq ft of area. When this is multiplied by 200 per sq ft i.e., the depth of the quarry, it amounts to Rs20 crore brass. For each brass, the excavator has to pay Rs100 as royalty to the government that amounts to Rs2,000 crore—the amount of royalty so far that has not been collected by the revenue department. When he asked the officer to show the royalty payment record, he confessed that they do not keep any such records. This is but the tip of the iceberg as quarrying operations are in full swing across the length and breadth of Maharashtra. He has asked for state level information.

The district Collector's office also has no record of the blatant illegal international sale of precious mineral stones acquired from quarrying sites (mostly in Pune district) if the website www.mindat.com is to be believed. Mining officer Mr Bamne states that the excavator must report any such mineral stones found there, but confessed that no one has approached him so far. In the meanwhile, international traders have found rare and exquisite treasure in Wagholi and Pashan of Pune, Lonavala, Narayangaon and Jalgaon.

Following is a shocking example from the website www.irocks.com:

"IND-64 (code of the mineral stone), Carvansite (name of the mineral stone) 'the burning bush'-$3000. Wagholi quarry, near Poona, Maharashtra, India. Miniature: 38 x 3.6 x 2.1 cm.'' Now, read its description as stated in the website which will give you an idea of how precious the stone is: "This is a single rosette composed of individual radiating crystals of cavansite. It exhibits an intense royal blue and is both lustrous and translucent. Aside from the very, very neat form of it, it is one of the finest canvansites for quality I have handled in 10 years and simply one of the most gorgeous of all. Competition, quality miniature this. Not just another representative example you could beat with more money. I have literally seen thousands of these things so believe me I do not rave carelessly on this.''

This website gives stunning photographs of 92 such specimens procured from Wagholi in Pune and Jalgaon. The seller's name is Rob Lavinsky. He has described practically every mineral stone with fantastic photographs, praising the high quality of mineral stones present in Maharashtra and priced them between $300 and $3000- some of them have been sold online!

While entrepreneurs across the world are looting our natural mineral treasures, the district administration is blissfully unaware of this daylight robbery. The mining officer agrees that findings of mineral stones should be reported to him but no one has done so far, at least it is not in the records.

This is a small example of the larger picture across the country where the wealth of mineral stones is being siphoned off by global commercial interests, thanks to lack of governance and passion to save this precious wealth by the relevant government bodies. It is a strong case for the Ministry of Environment and Forests to intervene in the matter and put a full stop to the brazen loot.{break}
These are the guidelines for environmentally sound operations for stone quarries:
 
DECEMBER 2006 GUIDELINES FOR STONE QUARRYING

Maharashtra Pollution Control Board:
 
The stone mining areas are generally identified by the mining department and the Collector, through the mining department regulates the operation of stone quarries. The operations of the quarries have operations including blasting (but):
1. No quarrying operations shall be carried out without obtaining Development Permission of the Planning Authority/District Collector/ Sub- Divisional Officer/Tehsildar
 
2. The application for Development Permission for quarrying shall
include: a. A Location/site Plan at 1:500 scale of the quarry site and an area up to 500 meters around the quarry site showing important natural and manmade features and contours and other important landscape features, access roads, buildings and other structures;

b. Proposed excavation plan and cross-sections at 1:500 or larger scale showing proposed phasing; terracing; stepping; benching slopes; locations of process equipments; diversion of water courses; impounding lakes; storage areas for topsoil, waste material, quarried material; workers' housing; landscaping including screen planting, mounding and measures against visual intrusion etc.

c. A restoration plan including landscaping proposals, phasing and proposal for reuse of the area after quarrying.

d. A report supplementing the excavation and restoration plans, costs and implementation programme.

3. No quarrying shall commence until the excavation plan is approved by the Director of Geology and Mining.

4. The Restoration Plan approved by the Planning Authority/District Collector/Sub-Divisional Officer/Tehsildar shall be implemented in consultation with the concerned Conservator of Forest of District Forests Officer.

5. Natural gradient of slope should be maintained during quarrying operations, slope of the footwall side (Slope in the direction in which mining does not exist) should be properly stabilised by planting adequate number of tress of suitable species in consultation with (the) local Forests Department so as to have soil-binding vegetation.

6. In the case of murrum, the entire weathered soil or murrum shall not be excavated leading to exposure of hard rock, instead, a capping or at least half-a-meter layer of murrum shall be left so that it can support vegetation and plantation that will be done later on.

7. Water course, if any, from a higher slope, should be properly diverted out of the quarry and shall be safely channelled out of any nearby human settlement.

8. During quarrying operations, the water should be sprayed at least once in a day over the roads at the quarry sites and nearby areas.

9. A kachha road, used for transportation of murrum, from the quarry site shall be invariably sprayed by water during these operations. In order to minimise dust pollution, measures such as adoption of hoods at transfer points, vulcanising of conveyer belt joints, under belt-cleaning devices, and installation of dust suppressions and/or dust extraction system for conveyance shall be adopted.

10. The kachha road leading to the quarry shall have avenue plantation to arrest dust pollution.

11. No blasting shall be permitted if a public road, railway line or any human settlement is located within 500 meters from the quarrying site.

12. Residences for labourers and related temporary structures should be constructed at least 500 meters away form the place of blasting as well as from the place of quarrying. Heavy blasting using heavy machinery shall be prohibited.

13. The Development Permission for quarrying shall be granted for a specific period, after which fresh permission for further quarrying will be necessary. In granting such fresh permission, the Planning Authority/District Collector/Sub-Divisional Officer/Tehsildar shall review the performance of the quarry operator in implementing the approved excavation and restoration plans, air pollution control measures undertaken and adherence of these guidelines while carrying out the quarrying operations.
 
SPECIFIC GUIDELINES FOR SOURCEWISE POLLUTION

Control measures to be followed for stone quarries:

AIR POLLUTION & DRILLING:

1) The drilling machine shall be fitted with dust suppression, collection and disposal arrangement.

2) Deep wetting of drilling zones shall be done by water sprinkling before starting drilling.

3) During the drilling operations, the efforts shall be made to reduce dust generation by taking appropriate measures

BLASTING  

1) (For) proper blasting, whole geometry shall be designed.

2) Blast site will be wetted before and after blasting operations are completed.

3)  Only optimum quantity of permissible explosives shall be used so that the vibrations do not damage the structures/houses if the quarrying operations are close to human habitation.

4) Blasting shall be conducted only during favourable weather conditions and only during the daytime and permissible hours.

5) The blasting operations shall be given publicity in the local area through davandi and other available media so that local people become aware of the blasting activities being undertaken in the area.

6) The vibrations should be monitored periodically in consultation with local mining authorities.

7) The storage of the explosives and its transfer to and from the quarry area shall be strictly in accordance with the conditions listed in the permission granted by the Explosives Department.

Heavy Earth moving Machinery (HEMM):

1) The operator/transporter shall carry out regular maintenance of the machinery and vehicles.
2) The speed limit shall be adhered to.
3)  The operator's cabin of the HEMMs should preferably be
air-conditioned or at least airtight.
4) The smoke emission should conform to the standards notified under the Motor Vehicles Act.
5) The trucks carrying the mined products shall be covered with tarpaulin so that there are no fugitive emissions during transportation.
6) The transportation should not go through busy roads in city/towns/villages if bypass roads are available.  

Bombay Minor Mineral Extraction Rules:

"According to the "Bombay Minor Mineral Extraction Rules, 1955," it says that quarry operators are required to follow and can be heavily fined for not observing these rules. They shall not carry on or allow to be carried any mining operation at any point within a distance of 50 yards if no blasting is involved, from the boundary of a railway line or reservoirs or public works or buildings, except with permission of the government. Shall see that the hole (where the blasting is performed) is muffled with an iron sheet with a weight of about 12 of more bags of sand on it. Before starting the blasting, give warning to the public by an efficient system of signals and by putting red flags in danger zones, namely 200 yards from blasting (site). Shall warn the public not to approach the quarry within half an hour after explosion.''

(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected].)

Comments
B V KRISHNAN
1 decade ago
What right has the Congress to critisize the BJP administration in Karnataka on illegal mining? They are turning a blind eye to what is happening in their own backyard. In earlier centuries the Britishers and Moghuls looted us - now our own politicians are continuing the loot.
Raja
Replied to B V KRISHNAN comment 1 decade ago
That is how political parties want us to think. Every time there is a debate - turn it into clash of political parties. Fact is both are on the wrong side, but the discussion will surely get sidelined and that is good for these thugs.
L ASHOK
1 decade ago
It is a national ashame and if you ask the govt. one of the jalras of the govt. just like KABIL SIBAL , they will tell that the news is spread by the opposition party to destabilise the country.
Pravinkumar Padwalkar
1 decade ago
Very well studied & presented article. Hats off to Mr.Kumbhar, Ms.Deshmukh & ofcourse to you for publishing this.There is a minister who is rulling Navi Mumbai & having quarries along the Thane Belapur road, devasted entire hilly area flouting all norms & regulations for years.Unfortunately this has not been taken up like Karnataka mining operations & Lavasa case.
Citizenindia
1 decade ago
NAC gave us the path breaking RTI ACTwhich was erhaps the best piece of legislation we got in a long long time. Now please give us a strong legal framework to take the info thru RTI and put it to its logical end. I believe mr moily has set in process themuch needed judicial revamp. That willbe very welcome. We hve to get the guilty to book without creating instability. As instability and chaos are thier fodder.
Rishi
1 decade ago
Now who are the real terrorists?
sanjay doshi
1 decade ago
around 10 years ago I was going to Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh, by car, and was surprised to see red colour soil on either side of the road. On inquiring with the driver I was told that there were huge deposits of iron ore and that most of it was being illegally mined. Who cares !
Nitin Kirtane
1 decade ago
it is sad that our natural wealth like quarries is wasted and foreigners taking undue advantage of this , Why do not we have strict mining laws like america , our government is losing out a lot , good work by mr kumbhar , an unbeleivable article by mrs deshmukh to take up this serious issue , we need good social activists like you , keep up the excellent writing
vijay kumbhar
1 decade ago
Thanks for the complements , This is happening not only in Pune but all over India, local activists must obtain information about it and pursue the matter with respective governments.
malq
1 decade ago
Thank you for this, very apt and timely, and congratulations to Vijay Kumbhar on his fortitude and resoluteness. Matters are even worse in the Hampi area, where the whole area is being sold, rock by rock - including rock structures dating back 1000 years and more.
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