In brazen violation of rules governing environmental protection in Jammu and Kashmir, over 600 stone crushing units in the State are breaching measures mandatory to minimize pollution levels. While these highly polluting units have been flouting norms with impunity for the past many years, the environmental watchdog, the State Pollution Control Board (PCB), is watching like a mute spectator. Dust rising from the crushers has been found to be causing an abnormal incidence of renal failure, throat ailments and other infections in areas situated in their vicinity. It also has an adverse impact on cattle and crops.
According to official records, of the 688 registered stone crusher units – the industry has been put in the red category because of its pollution potential – across the State, 411 operate in the Kashmir region. As per SPCB norms, there should be three rows of trees encircling every stone crusher to reduce the impact of dust emission. But not a single tree has been planted at most such units anywhere in the state, especially in Jammu region. It has been reliably learnt that no NOCs (No Objection Certificates) have been issued for these units by authorities and departments most likely to be impacted by their pollution, for example, the departments of education, animal and sheep husbandry, rural development, PCB, PHE, agriculture, horticulture and forests, in addition to the managements of private schools. In some cases, fake NOCs have been managed as most crusher owners have strong political links. They not only run their units illegally but do not pay their electricity bills as well.
As mentioned above, stone-crushers have turned into a serious health hazard for populations living in their vicinity. Human life and health should be the primary concern of the government. There is no denying the fact that stone crushers are needed, but they should not be allowed to proliferate so indiscriminately or operate without observing strict health-safety standards. The State Pollution Control Board must live up to its name and not its reputation of being a farm where favourite officers are put to pasture. If the Board has to serve merely as a rehabilitation centre for such officers, it is better scrapped. The cash-starved state cannot afford a useless body. The government must order a probe to ascertain how crushers are operating without mandatory NOCs from the quarters concerned.