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Two hills near Mumbai lose 40 hectares from illegal quarrying, finds NGO

Demolition of a hill destroys the continuity between its neighbouring hills, impacting groundwater level, percolation, tree cover and natural biodiversity

mumbai Updated: May 19, 2018 13:29 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai hills,Illegal quarrying,Mumbai Metropolitan Region
Quarrying being carried out at Dastan phata in Jasai region of Panvel.(HT Photo)

Two hills in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) – Jasai in Panvel taluka and Mankoli at Bhiwandi, Thane district – have lost at least 40 hectares to stone quarrying, which NGO Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan (SEAP) alleged is being carried out in violation of environment norms.

While stone quarrying is not illegal, it has to be carried out without causing any harm to the environment. Also, an order passed by the western bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2015 states hills with a slope of 25 degrees or more can’t be cut. The NGO alleged the two hills have a slope of more than 25 degrees.

The NGO on Friday wrote to the Thane collector, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), forest department and state environment department highlighting the activity being carried out at Anjur phata in Mankoli (20 hectares) along the Thane-Nashik Highway, and Dastan phata in Jasai region of Panvel (20 hectares). “There has been indiscriminate felling of trees and blasting of hills at both locations, which is balding and destroying the hills. Tree felling is an illegal activity in quarrying areas. Pollution caused by quarrying is also a cause for concern for local residents,” said Nandkumar Pawar, head, SEAP, which stopped environmental destruction at Parsik Hill in Navi Mumbai by filing an environment interest litigation (EIL) in the western bench of NGT.

The NGO, over the past two months, carried out ground surveys and identified the exact extent of the area lost, degree of slope, green cover that has been destroyed and dust pollution in surrounding areas.

According to the union environment ministry, demolition of a hill destroys the continuity between its neighbouring two hills, thus impacting groundwater level, percolation, tree cover and natural biodiversity. Stone quarrying cannot be carried out without permission from the district administration, and has to be in accordance with the guidelines of MPCB and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). “The hills are fully destroyed, while the Centre mandates starting stone cutting only 3m or 10ft from below the hill top,” Pawar said, adding, “No specific area has been demarcated for quarrying activity, vertical excavation is being carried out, no water sprinkling is being done before or after the quarrying takes place, and no measures are being taken to arrest dust pollution at the site.”

Officials from the state forest department said they had cancelled all permissions for stone quarrying, and not issued any new ones since early 2017. “Forest areas across the Thane district and surrounding areas are protected from quarrying activities. We will check whether this activity has the permission from the district collector,” said Jitendra Ramgaokar, deputy conservator of forest, Thane forest range. Forest officers from Panvel area said quarrying was not being done in their forest region.

While the Thane collector refused to comment, Raigad collector Vijay Suryvanshi said he has directed his office to carry out an inquiry. “If quarrying is taking place and the environment is being affected due to it, we will direct our team to ensure action is taken against these units,” he said.

MPCB officers from Thane and Panvel said they received the complaint, but were not aware if the units were illegal. “We will check whether these units have permission from us. Our field officers will survey both areas and contact the complainant on Monday,” said DB Patil, sub-regional officer, MPCB.

First Published: May 19, 2018 13:29 IST