The protesters are demanding that the environmental clearance granted to the quarry in the ecologically sensitive area be cancelled.

Kottancheri Hills in Kerala's KasaragodKottancheri Hills
Delve Environment Monday, December 28, 2020 - 16:17

It was here that Kerala’s first ecological camp was held in 1978, attesting to the environmental relevance of the region. Kottancheri hills in the state’s northern-most district of Kasaragod, located just 1 km from Karnataka’s Talakaveri Wildlife Sanctuary, is a haven of flora. However, the place has been in the news of late because of a 100-hour relay protest by the local residents after a quarry got permission to function in the ecologically sensitive area.

Chettikad Granites got the environmental clearance (EC) from the District Environment Impact Assessment Authority (DEIAA) in 2018 allowing it to operate in the Kottancheri-Pamathattu region. The quarry, however, can start functioning only if the Mining and Geology department gives sanction for mining.

“If any kind of activity like quarrying is allowed here, then landslides similar to those that happened in Kavalappara (the area in Malappuram where scores of people were killed in landslides in the 2019 floods) would occur here too,” Vinayan, an activist from the Kasaragod Samrakshana Samithi, tells TNM.

Rijosh MJ, Secretary of the Kottancheri-Pamathattu Samrakshana Samithi, and Biju Jose, a member of the Samithi, filed a petition with the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) last month challenging the environmental clearance given to the quarry.

Impact on locals and the ecology

“There’s a tribal hamlet just 200 m from the quarry site, where at least 20 families from the ST Malavettuvar community live. A small river nearby is the drinking water source for the tribals and other people living in the area. The tribals are dependent on the resources available nearby, and it’s not common for them to step outside the area. A quarry site here would severely and adversely impact their lives,” Rijosh tells TNM.

“In the last two-three years when Kerala witnessed extremely heavy rains, there were minor landslips in Kottancheri too. People living in the bottom of the hill had to be shifted to nearby schools at that time. Incidents of rocks rolling down have also happened in the past, which is another cause for worry. So we fear that quarrying in the vicinity would prove hazardous,” Jinson Thomas, a member of the Samithi, says.

“Apart from this, this is an ecologically fragile region. Kottancheri falls in the red zone in the hazard map of the state Disaster Management Authority, meaning it’s vulnerable to landslides, earthquakes and soil piping,” Rijosh explains.

Soil piping happens when water seeps along the edge between coarse and fine soils, eroding the particles from the finer layer into the coarse layer. It is usually caused by strong currents of underground water sources or excessive rain.

“Also, the site is just a kilometre from the Talakaveri Wildlife Sanctuary and falls under the buffer zone of the sanctuary, so clearance is needed from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, which the quarry owner didn’t get,” Rijosh adds.

Buffer zone is an area that is conserved as a natural habitat where plants and animals can thrive. No anthropogenic use is allowed here, so environmental clearance is not given for any human activity in a buffer zone.

“The quarry site falling under the buffer zone of the Talakaveri sanctuary shows the ecological sensitivity of the region. But state boundaries are not marked as buffer zones by the Forest ministry, and solely because of that Kottancheri is not officially marked as a buffer zone,” Jinson says.

The quarry would have a significant impact on the wildlife in the vicinity too. According to the Kerala tourism website, Kottancheri hills is an extension of the Ranipuram Wildlife Sanctuary. “The Kottancheri forest is packed with wildlife and merges with the reserved forests of Kasaragod. Elephants, wild dogs, deer, wild boar as well as rare birds and butterflies are abundant here,” the website reads.

What the petition challenging the EC notes

Apart from the EC, the quarry needs to get an ecological impact assessment clearance. The presence of water bodies is one of the criteria considered while giving EC and clearance after ecological impact assessment, because activities like mining or quarrying can pollute them and hence damage water sources used by people.

The application from Chettikad Granites wrongly mentions that the nearest canal/ check dam/ reservoir/ pond from the site is 5 km and 3.5 km (a drinking water pump house and a canal pump house). The Samithi’s petition clarified that there are two canals on the site as certified by the Divisional Forest Officer.

The acceptable distance from forests for quarry permission differs from case to case in Kerala. There are no proper criteria at present. While the application claims that the hill is 2.5 km from the ecologically sensitive area (ESA) comprising wetlands, water resources/ other water bodies, coastal zones, biospheres, mountains or forests, the petition says that the ESA regions are only 1.5 km from the site. In addition, the nearest forest land is only 500 m from the site.

The Samithi’s petition says that the environmental clearance to the quarry was granted without examining the facts and must be cancelled if there has been “suppression of material facts and submission of false data”.

Rijosh adds, “In certain images of the region, the quarry site falls under the red zone while in others it is shown in 30-m proximity. Sometimes rocks from the hill roll down to the bottom. There are scores of rocks that might fall even if there’s the slightest movement in the earth, so quarries shouldn’t be permitted in such regions. Also, the quarry site is sloping in many places (implying vulnerability). They couldn’t even finish marking the outer points in the quarry site because of the slope.”

The petition also said that the DEIAA does not have competent persons to deal with the EC application and hence sought to cancel the EC granted to Chettikad Granites. The National Green Tribunal had in 2015 ordered to disperse the District Environmental Impact Assessment Committees.

“A quarry, as per laws, cannot be permitted in an area with slope of more than 45 degrees. The Chettikad Granites quarry site is very steep. This has not been considered while issuing the Environmental Clearance. Though there is a general condition not to allow quarries within the area with slope of more than 45 degrees, the prohibited areas are not earmarked in the EC. Instead, the quarry proponent is given the liberty to fix the non-mining areas as per his choice. This is highly illegal. Unless and until the non-mining areas are earmarked by the authorities, the greedy proponent will not comply with this condition. It is pertinent to point that the condition to form benches of 6 m cannot be followed in the lands having slope of more than 45 degrees. But DEIAA that granted the EC in this case did not consider these relevant aspects,” the petition further noted.

Also Read: Kerala tribals fight against cutting of trees for Anakkayam hydel project

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