Villagers protest relocation of stone crushers

Villagers protest relocation of stone crushers THE VILLAGERS of Pali, 30 km from Delhi in Faridabad, are up ip arms over a move to set up 300 stone- crushing units on panchayat land that was once theirs and have gone to court to get a stay.

The Faridabad Complex Administration (FCA), acting on a Supreme Court order to relocate the units from the Faridabad-Delhi border, had merged the panchayat lands of Mohabatabad and Pali villages, and, circumventing an otherwise lengthy process, acquired 2,025 ha on which it plans to relocate the crushers.

In a classic case of the not-in-my- backyard syndrome, the court on May 16 ordered that all stone crushers along the Delhi-Faridabad border close and shift because they are polluting Delhi's air. M C Mehta, the advocate who sought the shifting, said the court was not satisfied with the pollution control measures taken by the crusher units and hence they had to be relocated.

The Pali villagers are protesting because the FCA-acquired land con 2 sists of grazing grounds and is a source of firewood. The villagers also claim that Pali is downwind of the new crushing site and that dust will be blown into their homes. "Is it only rich people's children who get tuberculosis? Are the lives of our children any less precious than those of the city folks? Yes, only because we are farmers and have to listen to the city sarkar," says Pali's sarpanch, Dharam Vir.

The decision to shift the crushers has been opposed by all concerned. The crushers are unhappy as their transport costs will quadruple; the labourers The Pali have been without work for the last four months; are prote and the mine owners have had to close as because I most of the crushers have not been installed FCA-acqired at the new sites yet.

K P Nyati, who heads land com the environmental cell of the Confederation of grazing A Indian Industry, says what is needed are and is a "more realistic standards and a better enforcement regime, which would have made more sense than merely relocating the problein." According to Central Pollution Control Board standards, the amount of suspended particulate matter (SPM) emitted by the crushers should not exceed 600 microgrammes per cubic metre of air at a distance of 10 m from the unit. But the amount of SPM at a busy intersection in Delhi is often much higher.

Experts also point out that there are simple and effective steps to cut down dust pollution from the units. The National Productivity Council discovered the dust generated could be reduced by 80 per cent simply by enclosing certain operations. This was also -a profitable move as the dust, and not just gravel, could be collected and sold. The crushers started building sheds, not out of a desire to control pollution, but to make money.

At Pali, the concentration of crushers will be as high as it was earlier. At the moment, the area is 3parsely populated, but once the huge complex of stone crushers iomes up, worker tamps and support Facilities will follow. Delhi's voracious appetite for land will also ensure its spread, bringing the problem back to where it started. 'Shifting, at best, is a temporary 3olution," feels Nyati.

Besides raising transport charges, Ie shifting will also increase fuel use and pollution. "Given that Delhi is the main consumer of the stones, it is ridiculous to move the crushers further out," says an expert, referring to the red problems of truck pollution.

Crushers will take at least a year to start operations at the new site. Because the crushers are closed, so are the stone mines as there is no offtake of stones.

Dinesh Kumar, a mine owner in Mewla village, says the court order has knocked the bottom out of the economy of the place. Most of the labourers have either gone home to Bihar and eastern UP or to Delhi to get other jobs.

The FCA is the only entity which stands to gain. Each plot at Pali is priced at Rs 10.8 lakh and another Rs 4.5 lakh is being charged from each unit owner for electricity. Additional charges will be levied for water, labour accommodation and parking, as and when they become available.

Salina town, 35 km from Delhi, will be another stone-crushing centre. A committee headed by the district commissioner has identified seven sites outside the town where 200 stone crushers can be located. The town's residents have no objections to these out-of-town sites but are opposed to the 40-old crushers within the town. As many as 70 per cent of the people living near these units suffer from respiratory diseases, says S B Kaushal, a divisional engineer, around whose house there are three crushers.

There is also an ethical issue, points oat one environmentalist. "If Delhi needs the gravel for its building, then it should also be prepared to suffer the pollution or pay to improve the conditions. Why should it simply relocate its problems in another's backyard?"

The labourers working in the crushers were the worst affected by the pollution, and for them, the future remains as dusty.