Stone quarrying at the cost of lives in Masagalli Village. From air pollution to water borne diseases, crop failure to skin rashes- Stone quarry and stone crushing in Masagalli village, exposes the villagers to numerous hazards
Revanna, a 42-year-old organic farmer living in Masagalli in Hosanagara, wakes up to the deafening sound and pacifies his trembling, eight-year-old daughter, Ashwini. He knew his wife was making breakfast as he hears his wife’s cough from the kitchen. The family of three sit together for breakfast, as Padma pulls out dosa wrapped in a newspaper.
As Revanna is all set to take on the day, he walks towards the field , accompanied by Ashwini. He had promised his eight-old-year that she will be able to play outside the house in the fresh air and assured his wife she will be able to draw clean water from the well this year.
While he toiled in the field all day, it made him feel like he is in a battlefield, a war zone. With loud explosions, grinding of machinery, unbearable sirens, blinding dust and suffocating air. That is how a day in Revanna’s life looked like.
Revanna lives 150 mts from a stone quarry. Five years ago, in 2013, an open green land, the lung of Masagalli, was encroached and the soil was dug to make way for Plot No.4 stone quarry.
Masagalli, a village located in Hosanagara Taluk of Shimoga district in Karnataka has a total geographical area of 866 hectares and 350 houses in the village.
Shimoga district is among the other districts of Karnataka that produces an average of 2.4 million tons of building stones. Within Shimoga, Masagalli, a village in Hosanagara taluk is known for its abundance of jelly stone, used for building houses.
An Anganwadi, 350 meters, from the quarry is the only government school in the village. Walking up to the Government School, Pushpavati, the only teacher of the school, rushes all her ten students to the school before the large lorries drive through the school road.The large lorries carry stone to and fro from the quarry, dropping large stones and sending rocks flying while creating a wave of silica dust in the air near the school.
“I fear these lorries as they pass by the school. More than teaching and learning in this school, my children and I end up coughing. I dust the classroom thrice a day. I myself have to sweep it,”said Pushpavati.
Commenting on the prevalent absenteeism, she said, “My children are bright, but there are hardly ten of them. And, among them, one or the other is absent mainly due to cough, skin allergy, eye infection. I myself have coughing problem.”
Around noon and 2:00 P.M., Pushpavati rushes to shut the doors and windows of the classroom and asks the children to close their ears and eyes tightly.
Stone blasting takes place twice a day causing tremors around the village and a deafening sound. Manoj, a 10-year-old student, said, “I am scared of this bomb sound, my ears will burst I feel.” Scratching his hand he said, “We all tease each other in the class calling each other monkey- monkey because our body itches because of so much dust.”
Manoj’s mother, Shilpa T, walks to the school to pick her son. Carrying her son’s bag she said, “I am so scared at times if my son will return home with an injury.”
“He already has skin allergy which we showed to a doctor. The walls of the houses are cracked because of stone blasting, and then imagine what it could do to my son’s health. Till when do we have to compromise and for what?”
Before she picks her son from school, she walks up to other villages to draw water because the ground level water has been affected by the quarries. The well water is covered with dust, making drinking water impossible for them.
Revanna owns an areca nut field, next to his house, 150 meters away from the quarry which makes organic farming difficult causing crop failure. “The whole point of organic farming is to keep crops away from pests and chemicals, but due to the silica dust covering my crops, my occupation suffers immensely,”said Revanna.
The Environmental Officer of Shivamogga conducted a study in 2017..The study investigated the quality of air and the pollutants present in the air due to the stone quarry. It was found that the carbon dioxide level of Masagalli was higher than that of the other villages in the vicinity whereas the carbon monoxide was the highest in the stone quarry. Overall the air quality in Masagalli was 202 while the normal range is 0 to 50.
According to the scale of The National Air Quality Index (the AQI) of 202 may cause breathing discomfort to people on prolonged exposure, and discomfort to people with heart disease and to limit outdoor activities.
Revanna and Padma, keep mum while Ashwini asks for water. Looking at the yellowish color of water, Padma serves her water with hesitation and fear.
It was the drinking water from the well in their lawn which Padma drew every morning. The well was covered with a green mesh cloth to cover it from silica dust flying out from the quarry.
Despite taking precautions, the water still remained contaminated.
The drinking water collected from Revanna’s house was put through a water quality test at the State Ground Water Cell, Department of Mines and Geology, Government of Karnataka. The report suggests that the drinking water from Revanna’s house contains 10
Hazen Units of colored particles and 0.1 NTU of Tubidity. This, according to the Indian Standard of Drinking Water Specification, depicts that even though the water is not unportable it is in the higher range of health risks.
The chief chemist said, “The water consists of several chemical molecules mainly silica. Due to the precense of silica, the color of the water is yellowish in colour. (Is the water portable? Ofcourse not). Even though the foreign particles present in the water are within the permissable limit, it is on a higher range.”
Adding to the results of the test, he said, “It is impossible to believe that people in our villages consume water which contains colour of 10 Hazen Unit. It is dangerous in terms of health.”
On November 2014, Masagalli village saw its first protest against the functioning of the stone quarry. With the health of villagers being affected, damages caused to houses and fields, noise and air pollution, the villagers could not keep mum.
As I live in Masagalli, I know what the plight of the villagers. I saw all their voices falling on deaf ears, the local politicians and the officials here never responded so far. So we collectively decided to involve human rights activists and few environmentalists to make our movement stronger,” said Santosh, a local social worker.
Villagers along with the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission member, Meera Saxena, the President of SDMC, Somashekara S, Malavalli Mathikoppa carried out a protest in January 2016 outside the Vidhan Soudha in Hosanagara Taluk. They allege that the quarry owner Guruprasad has not got clearance from the Karnataka State Pollution Board or any other government department to practice licensed stone quarrying in the village.
Tahasildar, Shantaveri Gopala Gowda, was approached by Kalluru Meghraj, activist, and the villagers demanded investigations of the ongoing situation in the quarry where the jelly stones and sand was extracted, illegally.
Vidhan Sabha member, Kagodu Timmappa, also was approached so that he pressurizes the government bodies to take action and provide investigation.
After approaching KSPB, the villagers have filed complaints with Lokayukta and are in the process of going to the high court.
In 2015, B. Guruprasad, the owner of the quarry at Masagalli, was slapped with a case by the Karnataka State Pollution board after an inspection of the site on August 25, 2015.Below are the violations under trial at the Lokayukta.
- Carrying out stone Quarry operations with an outdated license from 2012.
- Usage of stone crusher of the capacity 70 TDP, despite being refused permission by the KSPCB. The minimum capacity being 25 TDP
- For starting trail production in Masagalli without obtaining the consent for operations under Air Act 1981.
- Violation of CFE condition.
“The Karnataka State Pollution Board booked Guruprasad that as per the provisions of Air prevention and pollution act 1981 and Water Pollution Act 1974, but no action has been taken so far because of the local politicians supporting him,” said Santosh.
After the villagers raised their voice and successfully drew the attention of Karnataka State Pollution Board, Masagalli village was declared ecologically sensitive area and completely banned stone quarrying activity. According to the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, the government prohibits any industrial operation such as stone quarrying, thermal power plants and mining in certain areas and term them as ecologically sensitive areas.
The Karnataka Stone Quarry Owner’s Assosiation are head strong about their take on the illegal practices of the stone quarries in the state. Anantha K, member of KSQOA, said, “We are a regulating body and every quarry owner here abides by the amendments of The
Karnataka Regulation of Stone Crushers Ordinance 2011. If you read up on the guidelines it is clear how to legally practise stone quarry and stone crushing. It is also clear about the providing licenses to quarry owners. All the members here are licensed and we practise the guidelines given by the government.”
Anantha K is the owner of quarries at Bellary, Ramanagaram and Hospet. He said, “The quarry owners have to abide by the provision of the Air Pollution Act, 1961 and Environmental Protection Act, 1986.”
Apart from Anantha, Shivappa from Ramanagram is an owner of a stone quarry who practices legal stone quarrying.
Ramanagaram, a town surrounded by belt of rocks and hilly landscapes, is not free from stone extraction or illegal quarrying. Shivappa, the owner of a stone quarry and a stone crushing industry highlighted five quarries that practice legal quarrying in Ramanagaram.
He said, “It is a rocky area, a lot of companies come for infrastructure projects. If we do not follow rules and guidelines, ecological balance will be affected. As my quarry is situated in Kanakapura Taluk, it is located two kilometers away from the residential areas and the family of the quarry workers have been provided sheds one kilometers away from the quarry.”
Shivappa stacks legal documents in his office, starting from the developmental permission from the District Collector to the final restoration plan that includes reuse of the land post quarrying.
“Due to the stone quarry, the water was getting contaminated, which goes to the town. It was mandatory for me to change the pipelines for clean water to be channelised to the houses in Kanakapura.”
Waving the stone quarry license renewal papers, he said, “My license is going to expire in a year and I have already started applying for the renewal. We have District collectors patrolling the area and the quarry to check if the guidelines are being followed, pollution control methods are being used. Once that is done I will apply.”
In Kankapura Taluk, Shivappa’s quarry consists of heavy machineries, stone crushing and drilling equipments. The workers of the quarry wet the entire site where the drilling and stone blasting takes place during the day.
“We are allowed only to stone blast under the police supervision and during permissible hours. After that we carry stone in the trucks covered with tarpaulin cloth when we take the stones to the city,” said Ramesh, a quarry worker.
Name? An ecological Scientist from the Indian Institute of Science, who has developed researches in the past along with the Ministry of Forest, Environment and climate change talks about the implications of stone quarry in Ecologically Sensitive Areas in the Western Ghat like Hosanagara.
“Stone blasting in quarries have serious implications mainly on agriculture, health, flora and fauna. According to The Karnataka Regulation of Stone Crushers Ordinance 2011, stone blasting and crushing should take place at least 1 kilometers away from houses, schools, hospitals and agriculture fields. This is the first regulation a stone quarry owner should follow which most of them don’t.”
He added, “Villages mainly in Shimoga depend on agriculture, due to the silica dust found on plants and flowers of the area causes plant diseases, rotten crops and practicing organic farming is next to impossible. Pollination also is hampered by this as the insects can not differentiate between silica dust and pollen.”
The ground vibrations due to stone blasting have proven to be the most dangerous for children and animals. Any vibration above 10mm is likely to cause hearing damage among the people around the quarry.”
On speaking about how illegal practice of stone quarries has increased in the state he said, “I think to gain license from the government, the quarry owners ask permission in regards with quarrying and stone crushing to extract stones for the construction of roads and they have been given permission over the years. From the onset of the stone quarry, the government should keep an eye on the legalities, techniques and methods used in any stone quarry in the state.”