It was a tragic Sunday as two youths drowned in abandoned stone quarries in separate incidents. A 21-year-old youth drowned at Revora, while another 19-year-old boy met a similar fate at Nanora. Both had gone out for a swim with their friends and found the open pits the perfect place for a weekend adventure. While others in both groups managed to swim back, the two youths failed to negotiate the water depth and drowned.
Youngsters have often been drawn to these abandoned laterite quarries because of the still waters and privacy, especially during monsoon. If we may recall, on September 18, 2019, four students who were part of a 40-member group of boarders from a hostel on a trek drowned at a Tuem quarry, failing to read the depth of the water.
Installing signages near quarries the only solution?
For long, the debate has been over guarding these open quarries in the form of fencing or asking operators to take appropriate measures. The government has, from time to time, spoken of steps that even included a proposal to fill pits with solid waste from municipal areas, an idea that the National Green Tribunal shot down. Come 2023, and the talk is still on about barricading and installing signages warning against swimming.
The government had constituted flying squads in different talukas to identify illegal quarries, and Mamlatdars were asked to inventory all illegal and abandoned quarries. These exercises have remained only on paper as several illegal quarries in the State have gone unnoticed.
When the issue came up in the recently concluded monsoon Assembly session, replying to a Calling Attention motion moved by Sanvordem MLA Ganesh Gaonkar on open stone quarries, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant assured to form a committee from four departments to identify illegal stone quarries and initiate measures to fence them. The CM said that those in violation will be fined.
Unfortunately, an open threat to lives and animals has been given lip service for over five years. Precious lives continue to be lost while the talk continues to do its rounds. The CM has mentioned on the floor of the House that the Directorate of Mines has granted 74 quarry leases. However, there is no account of those operating illegally, and there is no figure of those who continue to defy fencing guidelines. Compliance and action have failed.
Action plan against open stone quarries delayed
The lack of action only fortifies the argument that the government machinery is dragging its feet over action. In July 2022, the High Court of Bombay at Goa pulled up authorities, including police and local panchayat, for ignoring large-scale quarrying in Mollem, Dharbandora.
The failure to contain the situation is as clear as daylight. The government has acted swiftly against visitors at waterfalls in forest areas in a conscious effort against human tragedies and drowning. But it has failed to set a system against quarries. It is time to introspect and put stringent measures in place, even taking action on those swimming at such quarries. Some seriousness has to come in. Otherwise, this issue will forever remain open like some of the pits, and families will keep mourning their dear and near ones.