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Bengaluru: Irregularities in stone quarrying cause of blast

Bengaluru: Irregularities in stone quarrying cause of blast
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Highlights

Though the cause of the blast at the stone crushing unit at Hunasodu village in Shivamogga district could not be ascertained immediately, some irregularities came to the fore.

Shivamogga: At least five quarry workers were charred to death when dynamites and gelatine sticks which were kept in a truck parked in a stone crushing unit at Hunasodu village, 8 km from Shivamogga city, exploded late on Thursday night. The loud blast that occurred around 10:20 p.m. on Thursday night, resulted in mild tremors in Shivamogga Chikkamagaluru and Davanagere districts.

According to locals, the sound of the blast was so intense that it was heard several kilometres away and several buildings developed cracks in nearby towns. The windows of houses were shattered to pieces in surrounding areas. Deputy Commissioner K.B. Shivakumar said that the bodies of the victims were recovered and post-mortem would be conducted in McGann hospital in Shivamogga.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa announced an ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh each for the families of the deceased.

"The incident took place around 10:25 pm on Thursday night and the truck's parts were blown away about 2 km from the site, turning the vehicle to ashes. The unit is spread over more than 20 acres of land. As of Friday evening, two bodies were recovered and sent to hospital. The remaining three were recovered after a bomb disposal squad, forensic experts from Bengaluru and Mangaluru arrived at the spot and certified that there were no live explosives in the area," police said in the statement.

Conceding illegal mining in Shivamogga, his native district, Yediyurappa said the quarry owner and two of his associates were arrested. He said a probe into the explosion was on and a team of officials were on the job.

A clear picture on the casualty was expected to emerge soon with the authorities not ruling out the possibility of the death toll rising.

In a tweet, the Chief Minister said: "My deepest condolences to the bereaved family members. I wish a speedy recovery to the injured."

"Tomorrow I am going there. There are illegal mining activities going on. I will try to take steps to prevent the repetition of such incidents in future," he said. The chief minister said Mines and Geology Minister Murugesh Nirani would soon inspect the area.

It is learnt that the truck was transporting gelatine sticks or stone-blasting material to a quarry in the region owned by a local businessman. The vehicle is believed to have been parked at the time and the workers were resting.

The reports confirmed that 100 plus stone crushing units and stone quarries were operating at Hunasodu, Kalluganguru, Gejjenahalli and Devakyathikoppa villages for the past several years.

The police arrested landowner Avinash Kulkarni and stone crushing unit operators Narasimha and Sudhakar. According to reports, Avinash secured a lease for mining for five years and hired Narasimha and Sudhakar to conduct the mining operations.

"As per the Karnataka Minor Mineral Concession Rules, the mining activity must be carried out by contractors who have the license to use explosives. Avinash had sub-leased the land to Narasimha and Sudhakar. It is learnt that both Narasimha and Sudhakar did not have necessary permission to carry out the mining operations and did not have the license to procure explosives," a senior police official said, adding that they were investigating where the illegal explosives were procured from.

Though the cause of the blast at the stone crushing unit at Hunasodu village in Shivamogga district could not be ascertained immediately, some irregularities came to the fore. Acknowledging that illegal mining activities were taking place, Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa said that appropriate action would be initiated against negligent officials.

Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai stated that the police arrested the quarry owner and the dynamite supplier in connection with the blast which claimed the lives of over five persons.

The bomb disposal squad has been investigating the area and trying to ascertain the reason behind the explosion that shook several areas.

Former principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) HoFF, B.K. Singh said that the grant of permission from the Mines and Geology Department is subject to a number of conditions.

"The blast appears to have taken place in a revenue stone quarry area nearly a kilometer away from Gajjenhalli minor forests. The incident reportedly took place at 9.30 pm last night due to a short circuit. Operating the quarry in the night without proper precautions is in violation of the conditions. Quarry owners should be brought to justice for loss of more than eight human lives," he said.

The gelatine sticks kept in the truck at the site reportedly went off.

"Transportation of such quantities of explosive materials during night is prohibited as it can cause disaster. There is some upper limit to the quantity to be transported, obviously to prevent accidents of this magnitude," he added.

Recounting his experience, Singh shared that quarries had been going on in all the forest divisions where he worked.

"Accidents on account of explosives have also taken place, but very rarely. I remember one or two human deaths in granite quarries of Chengdi, Dantahalli and Ponnachi, while I was working as DCF Kollegal between 1988 and 1991. Some of these quarries were located in forest areas and whenever the accidents took place, it was because of human negligence in handling explosives or granite accidently rolling down the slope," he recalled.

To prevent recurrence of such tragedies Singh demanded that the authorities responsible for regulating the quarry should be held accountable.

New Mines and Geology Minister Mrugesh Nirani said that stringent action would be taken against the illegal stone quarrying.

"Strict action will be taken against the culprits. I can give a detailed update after reaching Shivamogga," he said.

Yediyurappa has ordered a probe into the incident.

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