CHENNAI: Amid allegations of large scale mining of sand from the river bed under the pretext of desilting the Srivaikundam dam, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered Thoothukudi district to keep the entire sand mined so far in the stock yard and not transport or sell it until further orders.
The southern Bench of NGT said during the arguments on Wednesday that the district administration had erred by issuing a single tender to handle both silt and sand mined from the dam site. The district officials had also failed to specify procedures or rules on how the sand mined during the dam desilting was to be handled. This loophole was being exploited by contractors who seemed to focus on mining the river bed for sand as it commanded a good price in the market and not focus on removing the silt close to the dam shutters.
“This is the fault (issuing same tender for both sand and silt) and you have been taken for a ride by the contractors,” judicial member of the bench P Jyothimani observed, following the statements made by the Thoothukudi district collector M Ravi Kumar.
Pointing to the figures on the amount of sand and silt mined at the dam site, R Nagendran, expert member of the Bench, said the work in the last one month was mostly focused on mining the sand-rich river bed than the silt-loaded area close to the dam shutters.
The 140-year-old dam built on the river Tamirabharani — the only perennial river in the State — is being desilted for the last one month after years of demands by farmers and the litigation before the tribunal. The accumulated silt in the dam was rendering the dam useless and the river water was draining into the sea.
Based on the petition filed by S Joel, MDMK district secretary from Thoothukudi, the tribunal had directed on July 1 that the dam be desilted.
When the case came up for hearing on Wednesday, MDMK general secretary Vaiko, who was representing the petitioner Joel and the CPI leader R Nallakannu, who was member of the supervising committee appointed by the tribunal, submitted that hundreds of lorries were taking away the sand from the river bed in name of desilting.
“But the silt near the dam’s shutters is not being removed,” Vaiko claimed.
Advocate M Ponniah, appearing for a local farmer, submitted that sand mining was illegal as the tribunal, in its earlier order, had specifically noted that sand mining was different from desilting the dam.
Abdul Saleem, government pleader, argued that desilting was done in phases and that removal of the sand in the river bed was part of the phase. But when the Bench asked how the desilted sand would be disposed, the district collector Ravi Kumar said it would be sold by the contractor himself.
“This cannot be allowed. The sand must be sold as per rules and procedures,” the Bench member Jyothimani clarified.
The Bench ordered that the contractor should not be allowed to mine any more sand from the dam site and store the mined sand at the stock yard until tribunal’s orders on how to dispose of it.
The NGT Bench directed the district collector to personally supervise the desilting and to make sure the work was focused close to the dam’s shutters and finish desliting the first 900 meters in the next 30 days.
TO DESILT OR MINE?
➤ Action was taken to desilt Srivaikundam dam as accumulated silt was rendering it useless
➤ District administration erred by issuing a single tender to handle both silt and sand mined
➤ Failed to specify rules on how sand mined during the dam desilting was to be handled
➤ Contractors exploited this, focussed on mining