Placing stone crushers in ‘green’ category will create a huge environmental mess

CPCB draft report on classification of industries intends to shift stone crushing to green category from orange

By Shobhit Srivastava
Published: Thursday 28 December 2023
A stone crushing unit. Representative photo: iStock

In July 2023, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) proposed a new draft of classification criteria for industries into the red, orange, green and white categories. Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has reviewed the document and the proposed revisions and methodology for classification. 

In CSE’s view, the methodology is not full-fledged as it does not consider the impact of different types of pollution on the health of humans and occupational health impacts. Also, the fugitive emissions from process operation and material handling have been given low weightage, as compared to hazardous air pollutants and emissions from the combustion of coal or liquid fuels. 

Due to this, the stone crusher units — one of the most polluting sectors in terms of fugitive emissions — have been proposed to be shifted from the orange to green category in the CPCB report.

Dust emissions from the stone crushers should not be given low weightage as it is not less harmful than hazardous air pollutants. Many research studies conducted in India prove that stone crushers are not only a source of total suspended particles (TSP) and fine particulate matter (PM) 10, but also ultrafine PM2.5. 

A study conducted by Central Leather Research Institute looked into a cluster of 50 stone crushing units located in Pammal in suburban Chennai. The research found the units to be a source of high levels of dust generation in the vicinity and in the communities surrounding them. 

The researchers set up 26 sampling locations to assess daily average concentrations of TSP, PM10 and PM2.5 to be in the range of 342-2,470 microgrammes per cubic meter (µg/m3), 90-1,200 µg/m3 and 41-388 µg/m3, respectively. Both ambient concentrations and occupational exposure levels exceeded the Indian National Standards at most of the locations. 

Another study, Health Hazards of Stone Crusher Workers in Rajapalayam Taluk–A Case Study, found that “Even though the stone crushing units contribute significantly to employment opportunities either directly or indirectly to both the rural and urban people, at the same time we can’t forget its environmental impact”.

The paper found that environmental pollution by stone crushing units affected 36 per cent workers with diseases like eye irritation, asthma, chest pain, tuberculosis, etc. Among these diseases, eye irritation, asthma and skin allergies were the main ones among stone crushing workers, it said.

Nearly 50 per cent of the workers were not using proper protective devices. Out of this, 30 per cent of them were not using any devices to protect them from dust pollution, the paper added.

The stone crushers have always been on the radar of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and several NGT orders have been released on the polluting stone crusher units in different states. The sector may not be using any kind of fuel, but the kind of uncontrolled fugitive dust it emits into the atmosphere has a lethal effect on the inhabitants living around the crusher units and most severely hit are the labourers working inside the unit.

Furthermore, the operation of the stone crusher units produces significant noise pollution.  

In CSE’s experience, the vast majority of small and medium-sized stone crusher units lack dust control equipment, dust containment enclosures, water sprinkling systems, metalled roads, and other pollution control measures and are in violation of the guidelines established by the CPCB or the respective State Pollution Control Boards.

The stone crusher sector is an obvious source of PM pollution and cannot be allowed to downgrade to the green category from the existing orange one.

There are numerous cases that can be highlighted to provide an overview of the problems with stone crushers. One such NGT case (original application number 23/2017 (EZ)) dated March 15, 2023 is from Jharkhand and relates to the enforcement of environmental norms in the operation of crushing units and quarrying in the Rajmahal hills of the Vindhya mountains, Sahebganj district.

The point 10 of the order, pages 6-7, clearly stated:

The stone crushers have been found to be operating without necessary safeguards, particularly the air pollution control devices, to the detriment of environment and public health. The recommendations in the report include safeguards in the operation of stone crushing activities, stopping the operation of stone crushers until pollution control measures are adopted, management of the railway sidings that are generating pollution, surveillance and monitoring measures and recovery of environmental compensation followed by restoration measures by preparing an appropriate comprehensive Environment Management Plan for the areas where stone mines and crushers are located.

An August 10, 2023 NGT order showed an action-taken report submitted in response to three cases from Haryana. The cases were OA number 667/2018 (Mahendra Singh vs state of Haryana and ors), OA number 679/2018 (Tejpal vs state of Haryana and ors) and OA number 599/2019 (Bishamber Singh vs state of Haryana and ors).

According to the NGT order, the action-taken reports stated: 

There are a total of 133 stone crushing units in district Mahendragarh as per the order of the NGT, and accordingly, directions and show cause notices were issued to recover the interim environmental compensation imposed by the NGT vide order dated January 18, 2023. The status of recovery as on date is as follows: A total amount of Rs 1 crore and 40 lakh has been deposited by seven stone crushing units, Rs 20 lakh each, as interim environmental compensation in the account of Haryana State Pollution Control Board, Panchkula.

A joint committee filed a status report on October 28, 2023 in case (OA 480 of 2022 (Kuldeep vs state of Haryana)) on stone crushers operating in Birhi Kalan, Charkhi Dadri, Haryana. The status report on a September 13, 2023 NGT order was regarding compliance with consent conditions and environmental rules, norms and regulations for all the stone crushers operating in the zone. The report also suggested remedial measures. 

The joint committee looked at 30 stone crushing units located in Birhi Kalan, Charkhi Dadri and found 19 were compliant, five were dismantled and six were non-compliant due to inadequate air pollution control measures. As part of the remedial measures, the joint committee suggested closure action along with a levy of environment compensation on the non-complying units by the Haryana State Pollution Control Board.

Now the question is, if the stone crusher units are so clean that they can placed in the green category, then why are there so many orders by the NGT in various states for noncompliance by crusher units?

The reason for this is that we cannot deny the polluting potential of stone crusher units simply by claiming that no fuel is burned or hazardous pollutants are emitted. The overall conclusion is that the dust emitted by these units, in addition to the noise nuisance, causes health issues for the population living nearby. 

Furthermore, CSE has observed many standalone crusher units operating outside of designated industrial zones across the country. These non-industrial areas lack proper infrastructure and the emissions from the crusher units contribute to the region’s pollution. 

Noise pollution from the operation of the crusher units is another cause for concern, as many of the crusher units have been observed to be operational in areas where people live. Though there are siting criteria for such units, they are not judiciously followed pan-India.

The National Capital Region, which faces severe air quality issues, also has a large number of crushers. Their inclusion in the Graded Response Action Plan is a clear indicator that the presence of crusher units in any region is a point of concern for the air quality of that region.

In view of the above-mentioned points, it is suggested that the stone crushers only operate in the orange category. It cannot be justified that an industry like stone crushing is allowed to operate for 15 years without any checks. 

CPCB has recently updated the guidelines for the stone crusher sector as well. Shifting categories will also result in fewer checks on stone crushers for the  proper implementation of the latest guidelines.

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