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Mishandling of Karbi Anglong rocks may release toxic materials

File photo of a stone quarry in Karbi Anglong.
 GUWAHATI, Jan 5 - While illegal stone mining in the Karbi Anglong hills is thriving with the alleged support from a nexus of corrupt police and forest officials, geologists here call for urgent steps to stop these illegal practices claiming that these hills are reservoirs of most precious minerals. Moreover, wrong handling of the Karbi Anglong hill stones is fraught with the danger of exposing the surroundings to toxic materials naturally fused into the rocky mass of the hills, warned the geologists.

Talking to this correspondent, senior geologists, who are well-informed of the mineral potential in the State’s hills, said the Karbi Anglong hills contain, among others, traces of rare earth elements such as phosphate, platinum, glass sand and all types of decorative stones. These hills also have reserves of many grades of kaolin, sillimanite, magnetite, limestone, besides various sizes of coal pockets and gemstones including epidote; mica schist-rich large pegmatite veins and large quartz veins. However, a comprehensive geological investigation is sure to lead to discoveries of more troves of precious minerals in both the Karbi Anglong East and West districts, claimed the geologists.

In the two districts, though the State Directorate of Geology and Mining, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) under the Union Ministry of Mines and Minerals, and the Union government’s Atomic Mineral Division are carrying out geological investigations, these investigations are partial in nature.

In this connection, it is pertinent to mention here that the State government got the 1995 legislation ‘Assam Minor Mineral Concession Rule, 1994’ amended in 2018. This was virtually aimed at making things easier for stone miners, clay miners, sand miners, and those involved in extracting brick-earth, ‘impure quartz pebble’, shingle, etc. But, it lacked any prudence.

This amendment has taken away the power of the geology and mining directorate in favour of the forest department in matters of issuing permission to the miners involved in extracting/mining minor minerals. Though the minor minerals are defined as non-valuable minerals having less importance in respect to revenue earning, there is no provision in the State to assess the value of the minerals. The capacity of the State government’s laboratory set up for the purpose is also limited.

The traces of valuable minerals like rare earth elements, including tantalum, niobium, yttrium, etc., can be analysed only at the laboratories of the Atomic Mineral Division and the GSI. But traces of all such minerals are expected to be there in the rocks of Karbi Anglong districts. Therefore, the issue of issuing permission to stone miners in the two districts should not be treated as a simple one. But now no objection certificates (NOCs) are issued by the State government departments without following the required procedures.

It is also important from the environmental point of view that the rocks of Karbi Anglong districts contain many toxic components like fluoride, arsenic, and rare earth elements, which, if handled wrongly, can cause diseases like cancer, arsenicosis, fluorosis, heart ailments, etc., said the geologists.

The stone quarries in the Karbi Anglong hills may also hit hard the wild animals, including elephants, butterflies, moths, etc., because of their releasing the toxic materials to the open. It needs mention here that the Karbi Anglong districts are located in close proximity to Kaziranga National Park (KNP) and the recently set up Wild Muga Sanctuary at Daigrong Wildlife Sanctuary in Golaghat district. The eco-sensitive zone of 10-km radius from KNP should hence be modified to extend its jurisdiction area to cover the elephant reserves of Karbi Anglong and Golaghat districts of Assam and those of Nagaland, which are inter-linked, maintained the geologists.

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