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Tamil Nadu cracks down on inter-state sand smuggling to Kerala, reports  PC Vinoj Kumar

Thirst for earth Earth movers mining sand on the Tamarabarani river bed in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu
Thirst for earth Earth movers mining sand on the Tamarabarani river bed in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu
Photo: Nakkheeran

IN THE wee hours of August 30, a beat constable of the Coimbatore rural police waved down a suspicious Maruti 800 in Pollachi, near the Kerala border. Questioning revealed that the car was escorting two heavy lorries trying to smuggle sand into Kerala in violation of the law, which states that sand quarried in Tamil Nadu cannot be taken outside the state. The lorries were carrying 42 tonnes of sand valued at about Rs 60,000. Five people were arrested in connection with the case. However, this was not an isolated incident. Since March, the Coimbatore police have registered over fifty cases, arrested 98 persons and seized 56 lorries involved in sand smuggling.

Sources connected to the sand mafia estimate conservatively that in the past six years, an estimated 1,000 lorries carrying 12,000 tonnes of sand have made illegal trips into Kerala every day, bribing police checkposts on the inter-state border in Kanyakumari and Coimbatore districts. This smuggling has occurred mainly in the Coimbatore-Palghat and Kanyakumari-Thiruvananthapuram sectors. Over 50 percent of the sand required for Kerala’s construction industry comes from Tamil Nadu.

In the last few months, the Tamil Nadu police have launched a crackdown against sand smuggling to Kerala, thereby crippling Kerala’s construction industry. Extra checkposts have been erected in Kanyakumari and Coimbatore. Tougher action is being taken against the smugglers. “In the past, smugglers got away by paying a fine of Rs 25,000 when they were caught. Now, we seize the vehicle and register cases even against the owner of the lorry involved in the crime,” says N Kannan, SP, Coimbatore (Rural).

Sources said 1,000 lorries were involved in sand smuggling in Kanyakumari alone. “Earlier, we paid Rs 50 per vehicle at the police checkpost and crossed the border. Now, it’s become difficult,” said a driver. However, lured by the high price they can get for sand in Thiruvananthapuram, about 25 km from the border, some still manage to make a few trips during the night by bribing the cops at the checkposts.

Sand scrum Lorries waiting their turn to be filled with a load of sand at the Palar River Bed in Kanchipuram district, Tamil Nadu
Sand scrum Lorries waiting their turn to be filled with a load of sand at the Palar River Bed in Kanchipuram district, Tamil Nadu
Photo: Balaji

Rajendra Ratnoo, District Collector of Kanyakumari states that since April, 325 lorries have been seized and a sum of about Rs 80 lakhs collected in fines. “Because of our strict measures, smuggling has reduced by 90 percent on this route. Earlier, over five hundred lorries used to cross over to Kerala everyday,” he says.

While there are roads connecting Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the Nilgiris, Theni, and Tirunelveli districts, smugglers prefer not to take them because most of the roads traverse the mountainous Western Ghats. V Balakrishnan, SP, Theni district told TEHELKA that so far, no cases of smuggling have been reported in the district. The district has three roads leading to Kerala – two via Cumbum and one via Bodi. But all pass through hilly terrain, making them unattractive to the smugglers. The Ooty-Gudalur road in Nilgiris district also falls in the same category. From Tirunelveli, a road connects Sengottai with Kollam in Kerala. Asra Garg, SP, Tirunelveli district said that though no incident of smuggling has been detected on the stretch, the police have added a second check post to the existing one at Puliyarai as a precautionary measure.

Prior to the police crackdown, a lorry load of sand — which sells at Rs 6,000 in Tamil Nadu — sold for Rs 12,000 in Kerala. An estimated Rs 250 crores worth of sand was being transported to Kerala annually. Because of the current high demand in Kerala, builders are offering up to Rs 24,000 per lorry load. Suresh Solomon, a Thiruvananthapuram-based builder and the secretary of the Kerala unit of the Builders Association of India said the scarcity of sand had affected construction activities and put several labourers out of work. “The situation will worsen if something is not done soon,” he told TEHELKA.

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