Badri Chatterjee, Hindustan Times
Stone quarrying around Navi Mumbai has destroyed a green hill at Mahape, near Shilphata, said a citizens’ group, which has complained to the forest department and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB).
The complaint by Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan (SEAP) said a 100-hectare forest was wiped out after a section of the hill was excavated for stone mining.
The quarrying also creates dust pollution in the surrounding areas, which causes residents to fall ill, the complaint added.
“Quarrying in this belt has been carried out for several decades. Some quarries even function without a license,” said Nandkumar Pawar, head, SEAP. “A green mountain is on the verge of disappearing. This can be confirmed with the help of satellite maps from 2012 and earlier. The area is not barren and falls well within city limits.”
The hills are blasted with explosives as part of the process. This is followed by drilling into the rock. The extracted stone is then crushed for construction purposes.
“Cities are already heavily polluted, we cannot afford to lose an entire lush green mountain and thousands of fully-grown trees,” he said. “The pollution board needs to check the quarry’s licence and shut it down soon,” he added.
According to a recent study by MPCB, stone crushing units emit particulate matter — small pollutant particles than can enter the lungs and cause ailments — almost 100 times the safe limit.
Environmentalists said quarrying is done in Navi Mumbai (Mahape) and Thane (Shilphata). “The violation is prominent as there are green hills on either side of the cut hill. Stone and mud is pulled out to reclaim wetlands in Uran,” said Stalin Dayanand, director, NGO Vanashakti. “Dust flies almost 500m around the hill owing to the blasting. Birds have stopped coming here.”
MPCB officials confirmed that pollution levels in the area were a major concern. “Our sub-regional officers are investigating as we have received many complaints from locals,” said Anil Mohekar, regional officer, MPCB. “We would have issued closure notices to the quarry, but the district collector’s office had permitted it to operate. We will submit a report to our head office in Mumbai.”
Forest department officials said they will carry out a survey in the area. “The local divisional forest officer has been informed and a survey will be conducted to check destruction in the forest. If we find any wrongdoing, immediate action will be taken,” said Sunil Limaye, chief conservator of forest, Thane range.
Despite repeated attempts to reach the Thane collector and City & Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra Limited (CIDCO Limited), both were unavailable for a comment.
The Bombay high court directed the state to form a committee to inspect sires where illegal quarrying and excavation of hills was being carried out in Mumbai and Thane. The court had been hearing a petition filed by the Bombay Environmental Action Group in August last year.
The HC directed the committee — consisting of scientists, professors, BEAG members and the additional collectors of Mumbai and Thane — to examine whether permissions such as environmental clearances had been obtained.
“We are aware of quarrying activities at Shilphata. The committee will undertake a site visit to check whether environment clearances have been obtained,” said Debi Goenka, BEAG, and a member of the committee. “If a hill is demolished between two hills, the continuity is lost, which impacts the ground water, percolation, tree cover and natural biodiversity.”
He added that unregulated quarrying was leading to high siltation at Thane creek. “Construction debris land up at the creek, squeezing it from the edges, which is a major cause for concern,” he said. “After visiting these sites, we will be able to highlight these problems as a part of our report.”
Pollution levels 100 times safe limit for stone crushing units
Forty-seven stone crushing units at Haveli in Pune — responsible for the maximum supply of crushed sand and stone dust to Maharashtra and parts of Gujarat — are flouting pollution norms, found central and state pollution control boards. “The pollutant levels of some units are 100 times the safety standards,” said top pollution board officials.
“It is found that all the monitored units do not comply with the notified emission standard of 600 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m3). The monitored concentration of SPM varies from 770 (minimum) to 56,617 (maximum) µg/m3,” read the report by the pollution boards.