Kashmir Losing Its Mountains To Unabated Mining18 April 2010
Srinagar: Wanton mining of the fragile mountains of Kashmir has become a source of concern for environmentalists who mince no words to warn that it could trigger earthquakes and landslides across the Valley. Experts accuse the authorities of facilitating vandalism of the Valley mountains at a cost of few lakhs of rupees as royalty. Mountains play an important role in maintaining balance in the eco-system and disturbances in them can lead to a major environmental disaster, they said. A glaring example of sheer vandalism of mountains is the extensive mining activities from Manasbal to Saderkote in Bandipora district. The mining activities on the towering mountains has drastically affected the landscape and flora and fauna, experts said. Officials said the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah during a visit to Manasbal last year had expressed concern over the mining activities around the lake. “We had briefed the CM that mining in the lake’s catchments is threatening its conservation. On his directions, the Geology and Mining Department had closed four quarries overlooking the lake and started the process to rehabilitate the lessees,” said Nazir Ahmad, Chief Executive Officer of Wullar-Manasbal Development Authority. However, the mining in Saderkote and its adjoining areas is going on. “The blasts are so intense that whole area is shaken. Besides thick billows of dust emanating from the quarries is affecting our health,” the locals of Saderkote said. Experts state that as per the Mines Act 1952, a lessee is required to make benches which shall be sloped at an angle less than 60 degree and height of the bench shall not exceed six metres. However experts state that the mining rules were being openly flouted in Saderkote, Zewan, Pantha Chowk and Verinag. “The contractors resort to under-cutting and use heavy explosives to get more stones in less time. Due to rampant mining, the mountains get destabilized and there is danger of earthquakes and landslides. The recent tremors in Aishmuqam in south Kashmir’s Islamabad district were caused by rampant and unsystematic mining,” said Prof. Shakeel Romsu of Geology and Geo-physics Department of Kashmir University. Romsu said the concerned departments should ensure that the mining is undertaken only on the mountains having least environmental ramifications. He suggested formation of a committee comprising experts from allied fields to identify mountains for mining. “Otherwise if the unsystematic mining goes on, Valley can face a major ecological catastrophe,” he warned. Incidentally, after frequent rock falls, landslides and mishaps in the area, the Government had declared quarrying at Pantha Chowk unsafe and banned it subsequently. But the Geology and Mining Department allowed the blasting only in major quarries by issuing permits on the condition that digging of the surface will be carried for three feet and only loose material will be taken out. Ironically, in contravention to the guidelines, heavy explosives are placed deep in the mountains to meet the ever-growing demand of stones. Pertinently, in 2002, eight laborers were killed when part of a mountain collapsed. After the killing of two laborers last year in a stone quarry at Pantha Chowk, the Geology and Mining Department had enforced blanket ban on blasting in quarries near residential areas. But the ban was imposed for a few days only. In 2008, the Government had decided to constitute a committee to examine the matter. However, sources said the Committee is yet to be formed. Incidentally blasting of mountains for manufacture of cement has affected the eco-system near the Khrew-Khanmoh Conserve Reserve and Dachigam National Park which is the last bastion of critically endangered Hangul. In its report, the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) has revealed that the mining leases with the cement factories in Khanmoh-Khrew areas were without the Board’s authorization, mandatory under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. In the absence of any official clearance, the mined areas are not covered under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study neither has Environment Management Plan (EMP) been formulated for eco-restoration of the mined areas. The SPCB report states that a stone quarry in Wahabkhan Beat of Khrew Wildlife Range had devoured a major chunk of the Wildlife Protected Areas and affected dense crop of Kail (Blue Pine). It states that 14 stone quarries in Ladhu Beat and 18 quarries in Mondakpal Niyam Sahib are operating without the SPCB authorization. Officials said in Khonmoh the cement factory owners have constructed approach road up to the mining areas along steep slopes without prescribed ecological safeguards, adding that the mountain lies close to the Dachigam National Park. They said the gypsum factories in Uri and over two dozen stone crushers operating in Sheeri in Varmul were also operating without SPCB consent and devouring the mountains for extraction of raw material. Director Geology and Mining Department refused to comment on the matter.