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Bengal panel on quarries

Suri: The Bengal government has set up a group of ministers (GoM) to find out a way to reopen nearly 200 stone quarries in Birbhum by conforming to a National Green Tribunal order.

The tribunal had ordered that quarries across the country be auctioned, but a majority of stone reserves in Birbhum are beneath private land, resulting in their closure since September 2016.

Although any kind of mineral is a government property, the Mamata Banerjee dispensation is in a fix because it cannot put privately owned plots on auction.

"A similar advisory was issued for lifting of sand. However, the problem of lifting sand from riverbeds was solved as they were vested with the government. We are yet to find out a way to auction the quarries on private plots," said a senior state government official.

Sources at Nabanna said the problem had become critical because of the government's hands-off land policy. "The quarries could have been auctioned easily had the government agreed to acquire the plots concerned," said an official.

The government, sources said, has only one option right now and that is to convince the landowners to sell plots to the state.

"But it would be a tough exercise as it is never easy to convince all landowners of the quarries spread over more than 3,000 acres," said the official.

The closure of the quarries appeared to be a cause of concern for the ruling Trinamul Congress as nearly 8 lakh people are involved in the stone-based industries in areas like Panchami in Mohammedbazar, Nalhati, Rampurhat and Muraroi in Birbhum. There are 210 registered stone quarries and about 3,000 stone crushing units in those areas.

"As of now, some people are getting work as we decided to run the stone crushing units by importing stones from Jharkhand. But the industry is facing a trouble as bringing stones from Jharkhand is a costly exercise. We have decided to close the industry completely if the government does not take steps to reopen the quarries soon," said Kamal Khan, the secretary of the Birbhum Miners' Owners association.

A member of the GoM said the issue became a headache as so many people depended on the industry to earn livelihood. Besides, closure of the units would leave an impact on real estate in the state as Birbhum supplies 80 per cent of stone chips used for constructions in Bengal.

"No body would like to face a problem particularly when panchayat polls are round the corner. We have asked the local authorities to send a detailed report to us at the earliest. We will take a call after we receive the report," said another minister.

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