Pathanamthitta is Ayyappan's abode, but Kerala's stone quarry country is hell for villagers

“We are living in fear here”
Pathanamthitta is Ayyappan's abode, but Kerala's stone quarry country is hell for villagers
Pathanamthitta is Ayyappan's abode, but Kerala's stone quarry country is hell for villagers
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'Quarrying horror in Ayyappan's Abode'- The News Minute brings you an investigation into Kerala’s mining country Pathanamthitta

For many people in the villages of Pathanamthitta, living in the district couldn’t have been more different from what the district is known for: Ayyappan’s peaceful abode in the Sabarimala hillock. Many of the district’s villages feel like a warzone: the wail of sirens before the sound of explosions breaks the monotony of the grind of machinery.

Quarries in Pathanamthitta, one of Kerala’s least populated districts, outnumber villages in the district. In 2001, there were 19 quarries but today there are 520 stone quarries and 38 stone crushing units spread across the district’s 68 villages.

Loopholes and violations

Villagers and local NGOs allege that loopholes in an outdated law and lax implementation benefit quarry owners who only seek permission from the local panchayat or the revenue department when they are actually required to obtain clearances from a multitude of government departments.

“Most of them are operating with the help of simple laws framed decades ago, when quarrying was a slow work involving manual labour and there was no advanced equipment,” says NB Thankachan, a college professor and environmental activist from the district.

Additional laws and rules, where passed, are rarely implemented, says Aji Athirungal, Konni area Secretary of Western Ghat Protection Force People’s Council.

“None of the quarries have a proper place to store the explosives, no precautions are taken by workers while using the explosives. There are restrictions on the use of tipper lorries, which they can’t run during school and office hours, but none of these rules are followed and no officials question them,” Aji says.

Thankachan alleges that several quarry owners have encroached on forestland with the collusion of politicians. “Recently the Revenue Department issued a notice to two quarries asking them to pay a fine of Rs 9 crore for quarrying illegally from government lands,” he added.

The government can cancel the license and stop mining if:

"preservation of natural environment, control of floods, prevention of pollution, or to avoid danger to public health or communications or to ensure safety of buildings, monuments or other structures or for conservation of mineral resources or for maintaining safety in the mines or for such other purposes, as the Central Government may deem fit." 

"Where the State Government is of opinion that it is expedient in the interest of regulation of mines and minerals development, preservation of natural environment, control of floods, prevention of pollution, or to avoid danger to public health or communications."

Health and environmental hazards have not been clearly mentioned. To prove this, studies should be done by the state government however they are not done.


Besides the environmental hazards that pose a threat to life and limb, the quarrying and crushing operations cause several health problems.

“The sirens sound before the blast occurs. Giant machines working for 24 hours have made our lives terrible. At night, I get severe ear pain and headaches,” says Rema Shaji, a resident of Athirungal village in Pathanamthitta where five big quarries and other smaller ones are located.

Large lorries run through the village roads kicking up silica dust, and sending small rocks flying. For the last three years, Rema’s daughter has suffered from an eye infection and is unable to study. “The doctor says it is because of dust and we are planning to migrate to some other place,” Rema told The News Minute, adding that her neighbours moved to the neighbouring Alappuzha district after their children contracted pneumonia twice.

Rema Shaji

Another resident Sulochana says that she has been suffering from asthma and other breathing difficulties. “The doctor told me I could not be cured until I shift from this place. But where will I go?” she asks.

Dr. Jagadeesh, a senior official at the Kerala Directorate of Health Services, says that quarrying is known to cause respiratory diseases, nasal infections, catarrh, silicosis, chronic cough, skin allergies and that some research shows that long-term exposure to quarry dust, could even cause cancer.

Aji claimed that according to a study by action council Kalanjoor gram panchayat, there is an increase in the number of cancer patients in the past five years. He says health officers would not acknowledge it because they were “scared of the quarry mafia”.

Dr. Jagadeesh however, says that quarry dust alone could not be held responsible for cancer in the area. To the villagers’ long-standing demand for a health impact survey, Dr. Jagadeesh said: “Health departments have not yet done a study on it, but there were proposals to do it.”

Environmental hazards

“We are living in fear here,” says Rema Shaji, .

“Every month we repair our houses as the walls crack because of the blasting. During the rainy season, big rocks and soil roll down from the top of the hill into our compounds,” she added.

Nearly everyone in the locality has a story to tell about the damage the quarries cause.

“Last June when I was cutting grass for my goats, there was a landslide which also included rocks. I was injured severely. The wounds have not yet healed fully,” said Latha Sivan another resident of Athirungal.

Villagers also allege that the quarrying has affected the groundwater levels, forcing them to travel long distances to fetch water from panchayat taps.

President of Kerala Environmental Protection Council, John Peruvanthanam says that blasting the rock could affect the two major dams in the district, and possibly the ones in the neighbouring district.

“If these dams breach the whole of Kerala will be in the Arabian Sea,” he said.

He added that Kerala was the third-most vulnerable state to earthquakes. “In next few years all the hills will be flattened and the state is going to face huge natural disasters,” he added.

Peruvanthanam said that the National Green Tribunal mandated that environment impact studies be done in the areas where quarries were to be licensed. “The government does not carry out any studies because that would prove how hazardous quarrying is to our environment,” Peruvanthanam said.

Thankachan adds that the hills in the district were covered with forests, many of which had been destroyed by the quarrying activity, causing loss of rare species of flowers.


Thankachan and Peruvanthanam want the government to permit quarrying, but in a manner that does not cause damage to the people or to the environment.

“Let them grant licenses on a limited scale based on survey and study reports. But right now quarries can only come up with political influence,” says Thankachan.

With the pleas of the action councils of various villages falling on deaf ears, the only recourse Thankachan feels is to do some illegal construction.

“We have planned to build some temples and churches on top of the hills to protect them. They won’t demolish religious institutions. We have to protect these hills beacuse they are Pathanamthitta’s identity,” Thankachan says. 

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