The Pinarayi Vijayan government in Kerala has restored the minimum permissible distance limit for quarrying to 50 metres from roads, canals, rivers and residential buildings from the earlier norm of 100 metres. This move would enable about 2,600 small quarries spread across the state to bounce back to business. Under the revised rules, the term of the quarrying permit has also been enhanced to five years from the current three years. The amendments to the Kerala Minor Mineral Concession Rules were approved by the state Cabinet on Wednesday. The previous Congress-led UDF (United Democratic Front) regime had doubled the distance limit to 100 metres, grinding thousands of quarries to a sudden halt.
“The closure of small-scale quarries had led to shortage of construction material and a spike in prices, triggering a crisis in the construction industry,” says state industries minister AC Moideen. “The amendment is expected to provide a solution to the crisis.” The state Cabinet, which met this week, had decided to restore the distance limit to 50 metre after the state Industries Department conducted a detailed study. The report of the study had pointed out that the rules issued by the central government in 2016 and those followed by several other states prescribed only 50 metres.
“This revision would make deal of difference to the quarrying activity in Kerala, which had been on a standstill for a long while,” says MK Babu, general secretary, Small-scale Quarry-owners’ Association (Kerala). About 95% of quarrying in the state were under small-scale sector.
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China clay, silica sand, and laterite have been classified as minor minerals, eligible for extraction. Though the Centre had notified the three as minor minerals in 2015, they could not be extracted because the state had failed to come up with the relevant rules. Because of this lacuna, Malabar Cements had to import laterite from Andhra Pradesh at a price three times higher than the local price, though it was abundantly available in Kerala. Meanwhile, the revised rules warn of penal clause for the illegal removal of ordinary earth, if the applicant fails to complete the foundation of the building within one year of approval. The onus of specifying the amount of earth to be removed while issuing the building permit would be on the civic bodies.