With the rains seeming to have let up in Kerala, the state government too has relaxed its rules, allowing all quarrying and mining activities in the state to resume. The government which issued a blanket, albeit temporary, ban on all activities in Kerala's 895 quarries, including moving of red earth for construction, waited a total of 11 days before the lifting the ban.
On Thursday, a circular issued by K Biju, Director of the Department of Mining and Geology confirmed that the ban has been lifted and that all quarries can now resume operations.
"With the intensity of the rainfall and soil dampness reducing and the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority revoking all alerts, the ban on all mining has been lifted," the press release read.
The lifting of the ban comes less than 2 weeks after two massive landslides in Wayanad's Puthumala and Malappuram's Kavalappara claimed the lives of almost 80 people. The heavy showers during South West monsoon this year saw landslides in 31 locations across Kerala, leading to environmental experts partially blaming the state government's lax quarrying rules and unscientific exploitation of the Western Ghats, including in eco sensitive zones, as one of the reasons behind the large scale calamity.
Within a span of one week, Kerala witnessed 10 landslides in Wayanad, 23 minor landslides in Palakkad, 11 in Malappuram and 13 in Idukki. A study of the landslides by TV Sajeev, Principal Scientist at the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) found that 25 of the 31 locations where landslides occurred this time lay in ecologically sensitive zones of the state (ESZ) identified by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) in 2011.
Speaking to TNM, lawyer and environmental activist Harish Vasudevan said that the government order on a 'blanket ban' issued during the floods can only be seen as eyewash.
"Nobody asked for a blanket or total ban on mining and quarrying in the state. The Kerala State Disaster Management Plan, 2016, mandates that blasting and mining should be discontinued on the second day of heavy showers. This is a temporary move. But placing a total ban seems like a knee jerk reaction to a public outcry following the landslides and an attempt to evade thorough investigations on the correlation between landslides and mining/quarrying activities," he told TNM.
As of Thursday, 46 people have lost their lives in the landslide at Kavalappara with 12 persons missing. In Puthumala, 12 bodies have been recovered from the debris with 5 more persons feared missing. Rescue operations by the Kerala police, fire force and NDRF are continuing in these areas.
Now that the government has given permission for quarrying to resume, many environmentalists and others have been demanding that the government bring in stringent regulations in the sector. The Pinarayi Vijayan government had eased the environmental regulations for mining and quarrying in the state. In June 2017, the government amended the Kerala Minor Mineral Concession Rules 2015, which listed the permissible limits for allowed quarrying operations. The new amendment not only made no distinction between quarrying with and without explosives, it also reduced the minimum permissible distance limit from 100 metres to 50 metres from residential buildings, tanks, reservoirs, canals, bridges and other structures.