Srinagar: After securing a majority of mining contracts in Kashmir, the non-local contractors have already started their operations on various mineral blocks even before obtaining environmental clearance which is mandatory for extraction work.
Scores of heavy extraction vehicles deployed at Nallah Rambiara in Lassipora area have been extracting stones, boulders and other construction material for nearly a month now, according to local residents.
This is for the first time that businessmen from outside Jammu and Kashmir were allowed to participate in auction of the mineral blocks in the region. The special status, guaranteed under Article 370, had previously barred non-locals from leasing and renting of the mineral blocks in the region. After the abrogation of 370 last year on August 5, the auctions were opened up for them as well following which they won a majority of bids on blocks to mine sand and minerals like coal, limestone and marble.
To operate on the mineral block, however, there has to be a letter of intent (LOI) provided by a district magistrate along with an environmental clearance (EC) and a mining plan to be approved by the Department of Geology and Mining and finally, a Consent to Operate (CTO) from the pollution control board.
“Many of the contractors, including non-locals, have already started to operate despite lacking a majority of these documents,” an official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.
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Confirming this, Regional Director of J&K Pollution Control Board, Rafi Ahmad told NewsClick that the department has not received any applications so far.
“We had some seven or eight cases from Kulgam and Kupwara both in December, who had acquired environmental clearance. But, since then no one has applied so far. May be the new cases are still in process as there are auctions happening currently. But, we have received no such cases so far,” he said.
Imtiaz Ahmed Khan, joint director in the J&K government’s Geology and Mining Department, said it is “mandatory” for every extraction to have environmental clearance and the consent to operate from pollution control board before they begin work.
“It has not started. We are making our efforts to stop all the illegal mining taking place and we are seizing vehicles and extractors everyday. It may be occurring in the odd hours but the police and concerned administration is also working to stop them,” Khan said.
According to the official, as many 240 mineral blocks have already been auctioned off and auctioning of five more blocks from Anantnag District will commence from July 1.
At Lassipora area, the “illegal mining” is being carried out throughout the day with scores of vehicles ferrying construction material away from the site.
The rampant extraction has also raised environmental concerns among villagers living in the vicinity.
“Earlier, it used to be smaller machines and manual extraction. This time since it has gone to outside businessmen, they have deployed heavy machinery closer to the village bank,” a local resident told NewsClick.
The villagers, according to him, had also informed the contractors to keep such concerns in mind, but, the meeting, he added, ended up in a confrontation following which the police had to intervene.
A contractor, Shahnawaz, said that he works for a firm “Hari” which has secured the contract for the mineral block. According to him, the extraction is happening after they were permitted by the district administration.
“We have all the documents and we are expecting EC soon. We have been allowed by the district administration to operate since we are supplying material for government works NREGA and PMGSY. All the officials including the DC Pulwama knows we are extracting material. We are now waiting for EC which will come soon,” he claimed, while talking to NewsClick.
DC Pulwama Raghav Langer did not respond to calls and messages sent through SMS and WhatsApp.