ALAPPUZHA: Ratnan Arumughan is waiting outside his house at Vellanathuruth, one of the sand mining locations between TS Canal and the Arabian sea, on the 80th day of the anti-mining protest by residents of Alappad in Kollam.
He has packed his belongings and is awaiting his daughter Shalini to pick him up. The four-cent property which they call home for the past 35 years has been taken over by Indian Rare Earths Ltd (IRE). For 72-year-old Ratnan, a fisherman, it is his second shifting due to mining.
“I was forced to shift 35 years ago when IRE took over my house 10 km west from here. My old house, Ratnavilasom, is now in the sea,” said Ratnan, pointing at the sea beyond the sand heaps. All the 28 families shifted along with Ratnan and now they are slowing making another shift as their lands were given a paltry sum of Rs 55,000 per cent.
Many in the locality, consisting of fishermen belonging to the Dheevara community, have shifted over the years. Though the agreement says the mining company will return the land after mining mineral sand and refilling it with the residual sand, people like Sashi N are sceptical. “IRE has not refilled a single piece of land in the area yet,” he said. “They are perhaps hoping the land will soon be taken over by the sea.”
An anti-mining protest group formed by the residents called ‘Karimanal Khananavirudha Jankeeya Samarasamithi’ alleged IRE was only interested in collecting mineral sand from Vellanathuruth through a controversial method called sea washing. “IRE digs deep on the shore and expects sand from the adjacent areas to get accumulated in the pits. That is why they do not have plans to expand their mining activities,” said KCC Sreekumar, a member of the protest group.
The process has been suspended by the government after talks with protesters. The protest group is behind the ‘Save Alappad, Stop Mining’ campaign. The protesters are against any form of mining. “Apart from giving temporary employment to 240 people, the operation has only worsened the condition of people here,” said Joshi, a protester of Mukkumpuzha.
At the narrowest part of the land strip located at Vellanathuruth, it is just 33 m between the canal and the sea. Which means close to 20,000 hectares in 81.5 sqkm have been swallowed by the sea. During this period, agriculture, including coconut cultivation, in Mukkumpuzha and Panakkada fields have vanished from revenue records. According to the chairman of the protest group K Chandradas, mining, if allowed to continue, will have a devastating effect on the land and the people in the area.
“It is not just a case for Alappad. Arattupuzha, Thrikunnapuzha and Purakkad in Alappuzha district will be completely destroyed if we allow mining to continue,” said Chandradas. “There will be no national waterways on the western shore and there will be sea water incursion in Upper Kuttanad and Onattukara.”
IRE, a Central PSU, and the state-owned Kerala Metals and Minerals Ltd have been carrying out mining activities in over 160 hectares spread over Vellanathuruth village in Alappad panchayat and Ponmana and Ayanivelikulangara villages in Panmana panchayat for many decades. They have permission to continue mining till 2020.
The beach sand deposits extending from Neendakara to Kayamkulam are divided into eight blocks. The state government has allotted four blocks each to KMML and IRE for their operations. Of the above, blocks IV, VI, and VIII are in Alappad. IRE is carrying out operations only in block IV at present.
Heart of the matter
The beach sand deposits extending from Neendakara to Kayamkulam are divided into eight blocks
The Kerala government has allotted four blocks each to state-owned Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd (KMML) and Central PSU Indian Rare Earths (IRE) for their operations
IRE and KMML have been conducting mining in Vellanathuruth, Ponmana and Ayanivelikulangara for decades
Many local residents, consisting of fishermen belonging to the Dheevara community, have shifted over the years
Lobbying is on by a few private companies to get hold of this natural resource