Like in many other districts, Mandya district too has seen a flurry of activity to curb illegal stone quarrying, after the recent Hunasodu disaster in Shivamogga district.
Mandya district administration has dug up trenches across access roads to Bebi Betta Kaval in Pandavapura taluk, the hotspot of illegal stone quarrying in the region. However, it is business as usual for quarrying lobby: Trucks are plying, by filling the trenches or exploring new routes.
Local people are helplessly watching these developments, well aware of the negative impact of quarrying on their health and ecosystem.
The bigger challenge is the repeated warning of the damage it could cause to the Krishnaraja Sagar (KRS) dam in the district. The 90-year-old dam facilitates irrigation of 14 lakh hectare of farmland and supply of drinking water to Mysuru, Mandya, Chamarajanagar, Ramanagara, Bengaluru Rural and Bengaluru Urban districts.
“Only when there is a disaster, do we see some activity in the government machinery. Some visits, inspections, seizures, interceptions, closures. Once the officials leave, quarry activities resume,” said M Lakshmana, former chairman of Mysuru chapter of Institution of Engineers.
Activists demand declaration of the area in a radius of 20-km from the dam as a protected zone as quarry activities pose a threat to the structure. In 2018, Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC) submitted a report ‘Seismic data recordings from the KRS Dam’, pertaining to sound in and around KRS Dam and surrounding regions.
The report reads: “The State Dam Safety Committee, in coordination with District Administration, should inspect the area within a radial distance of 15-20 km from KRS Dam and propose a plan to regulate any activities which can harm the structure, in a longer course of time”.
As a result, quarries were closed on 1,623 acres of Bebi village in 2018.
“Officially, only crushers and M-sand units are functioning on Bebi Betta. The source of rocks and boulders to these units is a mystery. If they get their rocks and boulders from outside, why not move these units out of Bebi Betta?” B S Nataraj, a member of Bebi Betta Horata Samithi, asks.
“There is a licence for 23 crushers on Bebi Betta Kaval in Pandavapura taluk. Among them, 16 are functioning. They claim that they get rocks and boulders from Maddur and Ramanagar. But, some of them illegally quarry rocks in Bebi Betta itself,” admitted B C Shivananda Murthy, Assistant Commissioner, Pandavapura, Mandya district.
“There is permission for only one quarry, which is on a private land (patta land). The lease of 32 quarries was cancelled in 2018 following reports about adverse effects on the health of people and also to the KRS dam. As a precautionary measure, we are cracking down on illegal quarries,” he said.
After receiving the report of KSNDMC, Mandya District Administration has been imposing a ban on mining in a radius of 20 km, around KRS Dam, from time to time.
Nataraj said quarries in Bebi Betta are affecting the residents of Halpalli, Kaveripura, Shivaboganahalli, Bannangadi and Bebi villages. “We are protesting for the last six years. But there is no permanent solution as yet,” he said.
As he visited the areas, this reporter could see damages to many houses which the residents say were due to continuous use of explosives in the illegal quarries. “Now they use advanced explosives and deep inside the earth, so sound is not heard, but vibrations are felt. Quarry activities have not only polluted surface water but also groundwater,” B S Manjunath, a resident, said.