Granite quarry operators have adopted a unique strategy to grab the lands of villagers. B. Stalin, a lawyer-cum-social activist, says they virtually lay siege to a piece of land they want by dumping huge granite blocks all around it. In the absence of accessibility to the land, the owner, a small or marginal farmer or a stone-chisel worker, is left with little option other than selling the property at a throwaway price.
In Rangasamypuram, a powerful quarry operator has adopted this strategy against a family of chisel workers. Their house is situated perilously close to his huge quarry. It is a clear case of a violation of a provision in the Tamil Nadu Minor Mineral Concession Rules, 1959, which stipulates that no quarry lease should be given within 300 metres of any inhabited site.
M. Santhi, a resident, said, All our pleas to the quarry people fell on deaf ears. Whenever they conducted quarrying work, the entire house shook violently. Cracks have appeared on the wall. But where can we go if driven out of this place? The Collector visited the village recently, local people said.
Some residents of Keezhavalavu referred to a writ petition filed with the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court in 2007. V.R. Thangaraj, leader of the Melur taluk inland fisheries cooperative society, said in the petition that granite operators were dumping the waste produced during quarrying into irrigation tanks, thereby blocking the free flow of water into the next tank. They also use waterbodies as dumping sites despite opposition from the residents of Keezhavalavu village, he said.
The local panchayat, through a resolution passed unanimously on May 31, 2007, said that waterbodies in the area, including Adanchan, Sirumanickam, Koothan Chetty, Pooran, Oothu, Pillaiyar, Chinnar Oothu and Thulukkan tanks, should be protected from the onslaught of quarry operators.
K. Meyyar, taluk committee secretary of the Communist Party of India, said that several villages in the area suffered from dust pollution. A large number of migrant workers from north India were exploited by the quarry operators, he alleged. They had scant regard for labour laws. Not even 10 per cent of the workers were covered under the Employees State Insurance (ESI) scheme, he said.
L. Rathinam, a resident of Semminipatti, said that around seven acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) of Panchami land lying near the Purakoodu hillock had been illegally occupied by the granite mafia. The hillock, once a majestic landmark, has been flattened. The mountain spring and a temple for the village deity have perished.
M. Muthiah, a resident of Rangasamypuram, said that most of the residents of his village and others in the area were load-men or chisel workers who shaped waste stones. By and large these workers are Dalits. They cannot voice any protest against the mighty quarry operators, he said.
Another landmark that is on the wane is the famous Sarkarai Peer Malai at Amman Kovilpatti. The beautiful hillock stood as a symbol of communal harmony as it had a temple and a dargah located atop, local people lament.S. Dorairaj