Drops of water grains of sand

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Builders have requested Revenue Minister KP Rajendran to intervene and bail out the industry. He is reported to be exploring the possibility of bringing in ‘surplus sand’ from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Talking to TEHELKA, C Vasudeva, director of Kerala’s Mining and Geology department stated that his department has made various recommendations to the government towards finding alternative sources of sand.

In Kerala, the local supply of sand was severely restricted after 2001, when the state passed the Protection of River Banks and Regulation of Removal of Sand Act to check indiscriminate sand mining.

Sand costs Rs 6,000 a lorry load in Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, the same load sells for Rs 24,000

The Tamil Nadu government has been making efforts to control the inter-state smuggling of sand from 2008. In September 2008, the government passed an order prohibiting the inter-state transport of sand. This followed a development in 2003, when the government took over sand quarrying from private operators, following complaints about indiscriminate mining of river-beds in the State.

However, problems still persist. Environmentalists have been fighting for the proper implementation of the law. “The rules remain only on paper. In the absence of proper monitoring, unlawful mining continues in the State. The sand mafia has powerful political connections,” says R Arul of Pasumai Thayagam, a PMK-backed environmental outfit.

Tamil Nadu has remained a hotspot for sand smuggling. In February, a PIL was filed before the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court alleging that sand was being illegally shipped out of the country from the Tuticorin port. In July, concrete evidence of the international sand smuggling racket came to light following the seizure of a cargo ship containing 3,000 tonnes of sand at the Karaikal port. Though the small town of Karaikal is part of Puducherry, it is surrounded by Tamil Nadu, where the sand was quarried. The consignment was meant for the Maldives. The government was then forced to crack down on the smugglers and the cartel operating on the Tamil Nadu–Kerala border bore the brunt.

After a plot to smuggle sand to the Maldives was foiled, the state cracked down on the sand mafia

TAMILNADU’S crackdown against the sand mafia has crippled Kerala’s construction industry. Ironically, while Kerala depends on Tamil Nadu’s sand, Tamil Nadu depends on water from Kerala’s Mullaiperiyar dam. The states are involved in a dispute over the storage level of the dam. Farmers in Madurai and its adjoining districts depend on water from the dam in Kerala’s Idukki district. Tamil Nadu controls the dam on the basis of an agreement between the erstwhile princely State of Travancore and the then Madras Government in 1886. Kerala has refused to raise the dam’s storage level to 142 feet from the present 136 feet, in spite of a Supreme Court order to do so. (The full capacity of the dam is 152 feet.) It argues that the dam is weak and can’t hold more water.

While many see some kind of a link between the water and sand issues, environmentalists in Tamil Nadu are sceptical about the will of the government in continuing with the vigil against the sand mafia. “We have been demanding action against the inter-state smugglers for a long time. We are happy that the government is acting now. But does the government have the will to end this smuggling once and for all?” wonders Arul. One has to wait and see.

WRITER’S EMAIL
vinoj@tehelka.com

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