Stone quarry ban leaves thousands of families in distress

A stone quarry in Athwajan, on the outskirts of Srinagar
A stone quarry in Athwajan, on the outskirts of Srinagar | Photo: Reuters / Fayaz Kabli

SRINAGAR — The ban on stone quarrying in Jammu & Kashmir since 2016 has devastated thousands of households who relied on the business for a living.

Although the Lieutenant Governor-led administration reduced sanctions on stone quarry activities in 2021 by allowing the owners to lift only piled-up loose material, those associated with the business say there isn’t much to celebrate as they have apprehensions that the stockpiles will be depleted in a couple of years.

Bashir Ahmad, President of United Quarry Association told the news agency KNO that after the 2016 ban, their survival has become difficult, and that the lifting of restrictive sanctions does not guarantee them a safe business.

“Before the ban, there were around 400 stakeholders associated with stone quarrying; now with the ban in place, more than 40 per cent have closed down the business,” Bashir said.

He said the government in 2021 allowed the lifting of loose material but that too came with a condition to supply only to government contractors. “There should be the complete lifting of the ban on our work,” he urged.

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The association president said that after the permission for the lifting of loose material was given, a quarry owner can hardly lift 4 to 5 loads a month.

“The loose stone material that naturally fell down is not going to survive for long; it will drain out by the end of the next year or so, which will signal the complete shutdown of the business. We are currently in such poor financial shape that we are unable to even plan for new businesses,” he said.

According to Bashir, they also discussed a rehabilitation programme with the government that involved moving to a different location, but that plan was never carried out.

Another stone quarry owner, Naseer Ahmad, said his family has gone through mental stress. “We had taken loans against the business. We were happy doing our business, everything was going smooth, and then there was a sudden ban,” he said.

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Naseer said they were never taken on board by the authorities. “What can we do now as we have families to feed; banks are after us as they are not ready to waive off our loans. Where shall we go in these conditions,” he said.

Ahmad claimed that after the ban on stone quarry works, the families associated with the business are struggling to make their livelihoods as their children were also in this business.

Following the ban on stone quarry works in 2016, numerous protests and pressers were held by the stone quarry owners and their workers, demanding the lifting of a complete ban on the functioning of stone quarries.

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