The Centre is all set to take a stringent view on rampant hill-cutting in the states and may come out with strictures regarding such acts. With Maharashtra government’s State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) having submitted their recommendations regarding hill-cutting, the environment minister Prakash Javadekar said that he will look into the recommendations.
“I am aware that there is rampant hill-cutting in most of the states for constructions and quarrying. I would look into recommendations submitted by the states to prevent this,” assured Javadekar over phone.
After Pune suffered the Malin tragedy due to a landslide, the SEIAA have in their report highlighted that quarrying should only be carried out in recharge zones in the hills. The hill slopes have a run-off zone and recharge zone or storage zones. The run-off zones should not be touched, says a member. “In the state, especially in Pune and Thane districts, the hill-cutting or quarrying activities are being carried out in the run-off zone. This is dangerous and it can lead to Malin-like tragedies,’’ said a member from the SEIAA.
The report also mentions that the indiscriminate cutting of hills causes the aquifers or water pools in between the basaltic hill structure to become exposed and the water evaporates. Disturbing these aquifers will affect the water levels, adds the member. With the state facing water scarcity and the ground water getting depleted, this is another area which needs to be preserved and the indiscriminate hill cutting will affect these natural resources, says the member from SEIAA.
On allowing quarrying in the recharge zone of the hills, the report also mentions that in the upper reaches of the hill a retaining wall may be constructed and a tree cover maintained at the upper end of the quarry to prevent soil from eroding into the mine below and causing landslides. The report also states that no quarry should be allowed within 300 metres of any habitation and blasting with electronic detonations should be done to avoid excessive rock breakages and line drilling and free splitting should be done to minimise distribution to the present rock mass. The members submitted the report to the state environment department in November but they are yet to hear of any implementation.
The SEIAA team found that the quarries did not follow the rule to cut the hill in steps to prevent landslides or rockfalls from above or below the quarry. A vertical cut of height of more than 80 metres was observed by the committee at some quarries. The report also warns that a habitat above the quarry, if degraded further, can lead to erosion and unstable soil conditions, making parts of the hill slope landslide-prone during the monsoon. The report clearly states that settlement below such quarries could be at great risk and Malin-like episodes could take place.
The Kasturirangan committee report also highlighted rampant stone quarrying which has led to land slides without obtaining permissions. The report highlights the status in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu as well as Kerala. Around 60,000 sq km of western ghats should be turned into a no-go area for commercial activites like mining, thermal power plants, polluting industries and large housing plans, according to what the members had recommended in their report.