Illegal quarrying is back in focus after a powerful explosion ripped through a stone-crushing unit in Shivamogga district on the night of January 21, killing at least six labourers. The blast was blamed on the illegal use of explosives such as dynamite and gelatine sticks.
Quarrying, like mining, is big business in resource-rich Karnataka but it has been overexploited, inflicting financial, environmental and social damages on the state. We decipher everything for you:
What is quarrying? Is it legal?
Quarrying is the process of extracting stones or other materials from a large, deep pit. Typically, explosives such as dynamite and gelatin are used to crush the hard rocks. Stones thus obtained are used for various purposes, chiefly construction. Quarrying is different from mining, whereby minerals are obtained from below the earth's surface. Quarrying is legal, but like all businesses that deal with natural resources, it requires licensing from the government. Illegal quarrying not only results in revenue losses to the government but also leads to grave social and environmental damages.
What is the procedure to get a quarrying licence?
Mining or quarrying licences are issued by the competent authority — director, joint director, senior geologist or geologist in the Department of Mines and Geology. The quarrying lease for specified or non-specified minor minerals can be secured by bidding at a tender-cum-auction. In areas that are not notified for the grant of lease, applications can be filed with the competent authority for lease, subject to clearances from committees formed to consider the applications.
Which are the quarrying districts in Karnataka?
Though quarrying is carried out in all districts of the state, Chikkaballapur and Kolar are hubs due to their proximity to Bengaluru. Belagavi and Kalaburagi, too, have many quarries.
How many mining reserves are there in Karnataka?
The state government has made various estimates of specified and non-specified mineral and ore reserves. For example, granite reserves are estimated at 9,571,693,000 tonnes spread over 4,200 square kilometres.
How prevalent is illegal quarrying in Karnataka?
While the government has struggled to accurately assess the number of illegal quarries, conservative estimates indicate that there are at least as many illegal quarries as legal ones. For instance, a drone-based survey in 2018 had identified extensive encroachments at 22 quarries in three villages of Malur taluk in Kolar district. Authorities had fined the violators Rs 95 crore. But the survey could not be carried out on a large scale after some quarry owners moved the court challenging its findings.
Why does illegal quarrying continue?
The most common violations are over-extraction or extraction from land not leased to the lessee. Authorities often permit continuing operations once the fines are paid. Even illegal operations busted by authorities resume thanks to collusion between locals and quarry owners. A shortage of manpower in the Department of Mines and Geology to monitor the widely dispersed quarries and mines has been cited as the main reason for failure to curb illegal quarrying. Alleged political patronage of illegal quarrying, corruption, lack of coordinated efforts between departments and undue delay in adapting technology to monitor the quarries are also among the roadblocks.
Which tools are used in quarrying? Are any licences required?
Blasting requires a range of tools, starting with a hydraulic drill to dig holes on the rock. Explosives such as gelatin sticks and detonators are slipped into multiple holes along a rock face and are detonated. Purchase and use of explosives require an operating licence under the Minerals and Mining (Explosives) Regulations, 2012, which is valid for a year. The Chief Inspector of Mines is also the Chief Inspector of Explosives, who enforces the regulations.
Are there any restrictions in the transport and use of gelatin sticks in blasting?
Operating licences and permits are required for transport of explosives such as gelatin sticks. Detonators are to be transported separately. A person may acquire, store or transport explosives only if authorities have issued him permits for each of the activities — acquisition, storage and transport.