“How many loads of sand do you want? Do you want it delivered at night or by day? The cost, if delivered at night would include costs involved in encountering traffic police,” says a person who identifies himself as Napoleon, purportedly a sand dealer.
The dry bed of the Thenpennaiyar has been witnessing extensive sand mining for the last ten years and residents of the nearby Enathimangalam village say that lorries, earthmovers and excavators work round the clock in the area. The road leading to the village, which is off NH-45, is indistinguishable after a point as it it covered in sand.
Ananthayi (name changed), a senior citizen in nearby Pidagam village, said when sand mining commenced in the river, activities used to halt by 4 pm. Slowly, contractors started flexing their muscles and activities extended till the night. “Today, the activity runs non-stop,” she said.
Villagers say everything in their houses are covered with a coat of dust because of the tippers lorries passing through the village. Some even complain of breathing problems due to particulate matter in the air.
Narayanan (name changed) said he has been suffering from asthma for the past two years. “I consulted doctors who asked me to shi-ft to another place. But where can I go? I cannot move to another place,” he added.
Sand is transported by bullock carts and mini vans and a cartload of sand costs between `1,200 and `1,500.
Asserting that illegal sand mining is the biggest threat to water security in the district, noted activist Eazhil Elangovan, who actively campaigned against the practice, said government norms are violated with impunity.
“District officials have permitted extraction of sand only up to a depth of one metre. But the riverbed has been hollowed out much deeper than that,” he states.
He adds that contractors charge exorbitant rates for sand. While the rate stipulated by the government is `350 per unit of sand, it is sold at least 15 to 20 times the amount, he claims.
Passes issued by the government to regulate mining are also misused, he says. “Many lorry owners use a single pass for multiple trips; some even have their own printed licences, and have formed a cartel.”
Many contractors, with the backing of influential persons, have only expired contract papers, yet engage in mining using large excavators, he adds.
When contacted, officials at the Town Municipality said they had received several complaints in this regard. However, officials from the Public Works Department of Lower Pennaiyar Basin Division were unavailable for comment.
CPI to Move HC
Senior leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI) R Nallakannu said he would approach the High Court if indiscriminate sand extraction from the Thenpennaiyar bed did not stop.
Nallakannu, who recently visited Pidagam village to assess the extent of damage due to indiscriminate sand mining, told Express he would urge district officials to take necessary action to stop the illegal practice.
“People in the villages of Tiruvannamalai, Krishnagiri, Cuddalore and Villupuram would be the worst hit. More than 1 lakh acres of agricultural lands rely on this river for cultivation. Hence, it must be protected,” he said. The mining has to take place in accordance with the orders of the National Green Tribunal, to control such activities, he said.
(with inputs from Karal Marx L)