ALAPPUZHA: Mechanised lime shell dredging carried out illegally in the Vembanad lake that supports a rich fishery of fish and clams, has caused a serious threat to the marine life here. After pressure from the clam collectors, the District Administration with the help of police confiscated six country boats and arrested 30 illegal employees on Tuesday.
Illegal dredging of white lime shell using motor and country boats from the bed of the lake has been actively going on for the past few months. Fishermen and clam collectors in the Vembanad Lake have entered into a protest saying that this has led to ecological problems, depletion of fish wealth and clam exploitation. According to Ravi, a fisherman from Muhamma, the white lime shell collection using motors has resulted in a huge loss of fish and fingerlings of clams. The white lime shell collectors using motors have a capacity of 10 to 20 hp for dredging. The motors fixed on the country boat have a capacity to suck white lime shell from the bed of the lake normally from a depth of 10 metres and more, thereby destroying marine life.
A huge area of the lake bed has been destroyed as a result of the mini dredging, he said. Vembanad Kayal Samrakshna Samithi secretary K M Poove said that the some of the fishermen and lime shell smugglers have started a new method of mini dredging in the Vembanad lake few months ago. The fishermen resented the move, but the smugglers were in no mood to budge and encountered the fishermen using weapons and attacked them. Environment activists too expressed concern and voiced their protest against the indiscriminate exploitation of marine life.
More than 10 teams have been carrying out dredging in the lake in Muhamma and Thanneermukkom area in recent days. They use the bills of a Cooperative Vechoor White Lime Shell Collectors Cooperative Society for smuggling the lime shell. The society is not functioning, but it has the license to collect lime shell from fishermen who collect white lime shell manually. The white lime shell is the fossil of black lime shell. After the clams die, the shell is deposited in the lake bed. After few years, the colour of the shell gradually changes to white, which is called the white lime shell. It has more demand in Tamil Nadu and other neighbouring states for making cement, poultry feed, medicine and other requirements.
Large scale deposit of white lime shell is found in the depths of Vembanad lake. So, the smugglers use mini dredgers to collect the lime shell and smuggle it to the other states”, he said.
He said that, the Travancore Cements Limited (TCL) is carrying out white lime shell dredging from TV Puram near Vaikom in the lake with the permission of the state government. The dredging has caused large scale ecological problems of alarming proportions, but we cannot prevent the dredging on humanitarian grounds as more than 500 employees are working in the company and it depends on the white lime shell as their raw material, he added.
The state government had given permission to TCL to dredge white lime shell more than 60 years ago, he said. The large scale mini dredging will destroy the ecology of the lake and would definitely have serious repercussions as it has caused a depletion of marine life, he said.
Poove said that, if the government turns a blind to eye to a problem of such great magnitude, it is tactfully leaving the door open for smugglers to dredge shell and expand the smuggling network to other areas.