Taking serious note of the environmental degradation caused by haphazard cutting of hills on the outskirts of Mumbai, the state’s green panel has clamped down on the activity. The hills were being systematically destroyed over decades for mining stones.
The panel, State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC), has also banned stone quarrying in areas less than 1 hectare and said no new stone quarry proposal would be entertained across the state, and only ongoing and existing leases could be recommended for renewal.
Environment activists have been pointing out for long that the construction boom in Mumbai and surrounding areas was the reason behind the rampant quarrying.
SEAC made the observations last month after considering environment clearance proposals for several stone quarries in Thane district and noted that there was a very high density of stone quarries and, in many cases, the district mining officer could not tell if they were even legal.
For instance, Thane district has 409 stone quarries. Of these, the Bhiwandi taluka cluster has the highest density with 24 quarries within a radius of 3km.
“There is no data on how many stone quarries are operating. There are many illegal activities going on and there has been no real monitoring of such activities as each district has just one mining officer. Often there is no limit to the depth of quarrying mentioned and some hills have been cut to ground level,’’ said Mukund Athawale, SEAC.
For instance, post a site visit of certain quarries on February 16, SEAC members observed one abandoned and one ongoing quarry operation adjoining a legal 15-year-old enterprise. The mining officer had no note of these mines. At another quarry, Sagar Stone in Waghuli village, quarrying was being operated 500 metres from a reserved forest and 100 metres from the national highway. This quarrying had no limit to how deep the mining could be conducted.
Last year, following a Supreme Court order, mining of small minerals on an area less than five hectares was brought under the ambit of the environment appraisal process. As a result, stone quarries that so far had not been regulated have come under a stringent appraisal process. Neither the government nor the mine owners seem ready for this.