Srinagar: The government has failed to rehabilitate thousands of workers and some 300 quarry owners affected by the ban of quarrying in the city overskirts.
Last year, the government banned mining activities in Athwajan and Pantha Chowk area citing ecological dangers. Subsequently, the J&K High Court had asked the government to rehabilitate workers and owners associated with the quarrying business. A year after, however, the government has failed to come up with a rehabilitation plan for them.
According to quarry holders and workers, the government directive has affected the livelihood of thousands of people.
“We are not against banning of quarrying because the government is planning to make Srinagar a smart city. But a large number of people are associated with the quarrying business and government must think about us,” Abdul Aziz Mir, a quarry owner told Kashmir Reader.
“There are nearly 80,000 workers associated with the business directly and indirectly. More than 300 quarry holders will also become jobless,” he said.
The ban order issued by the Commissioner Secretary, Industries and Commerce had said that stone quarries at Athawajan and Pantha Chowk not only present bad face before every person travelling on Srinagar-Jammu Highway but also have adverse impact on the ecology and environment of the area due to reckless mining.
The officials stated that over-extraction had made the area vulnerable to disaster.
Under the new rules governing mining in J&K titled ‘The Jammu and Kashmir Minor Mineral Concession, Storage Transportation of Minerals and Prevention of Illegal Mining Rules, 2016’ notified vide SRO-105 on March 31, 2016, no person shall be granted any minor mineral concession in any area under these rules unless a mining plan approved under these rules is submitted and approved by the government.
“The present scenario of extraction of stones in the area does not permit to prepare a suitable mining plan and the measures for safeguarding the fragile ecology and environment in the area,” an official in the Geology Department quoting the new SRO said.
He said the quarry sites at Athwajan and Pantha Chowk were facing an alarming situation as stones were being extracted at a level 20 to 100 degree above ground with 85-degree slope.
“It makes the quarrying belt extremely dangerous because of the slope and height is crossing the permissible limits,” the official said.
Following the ban, the government had identified Zewan area for mining purposes keeping in view the requirement of stones for construction purposes in Srinagar. However, the locals resented the move to shift quarrying work to Zewan.
“The plan was stalled due to strong resentment among the locals of Zewan. Now, the government is still under dilemma where to shift us,” the owners said.
In April this year, the J&K High Court has granted the state government two weeks time for disclosing policy rehabilitation of those persons affected by the ban.
The court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation seeking an end to stone quarrying in the state.
The petitioner had claimed that there has been unabated stone quarrying within in many sensitive areas including forest land for a long period and that ban on the quarrying “appears to be only in the papers”.
He had also accused state authorities of lacking will to implement the orders of the court regarding the quarrying.
Following the court orders, the government had formed districts level committees for various including Anantnag, Baramulla, Budgam, Ganderbal, Kupwara and Pulwama headed by respective deputy commissioners to identify alternative sites for stone quarrying in these districts.
“However, the then Commissioner Secretary informed the court that due to the floods and elections in 2014, the matter could not be pursued by the committees,” said an official.
Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Baseer A Khan told Kashmir Reader that the government had already identified many alternative sites for stone quarrying in Kashmir.
“The owners have to finalise the site themselves and work out the rehabilitation plans along with the third party provided by the Industries and, Geology & Mining Departments,” he said.
Khan said: “If the site was not feasible they should meet us to tell what needs to be done. We are not going render them jobless.”