VELLORE: Sand mafia in and around Thottalam and Chinna Thottalam panchayats in the district have unleashed their muscle and money power to silence villagers after they opposed government officials from opening sand quarries on the Palar riverbed. Fearing for their safety, many active participants in the two-month-old protests against sand quarries have turned into mute spectators.
Some villagers have even given up their protests against the mafia, who are allegedly backed by political bigwigs, for a few thousands of rupees. “We are helpless against the money, muscle and political power of those involved in sand mining,” said a villager, who was forced to accept Rs 10,000 from contractors from Namakkal, Erode and other districts.
The villagers claimed that sand smugglers were camping in and around Madhanur with goons. “They manipulated our own villagers against us in a bid to plunder the Palar riverbed,” said Kumaran of Thottalam.
The sand smugglers have been giving anything between Rs 5,000 to 25,000 to each family in Devigapuram, Athorampatti, Thottalam, Chinna Thottalam and Pon Nagar and neighbouring villages. “They started distributing the money two months ago. Initially, they discreetly distributed the cash. Now, they are openly asking the villagers to collect around Rs 15,000 by showing their ration card with the condition that they would owe their allegiance to them,” said lawyer V Balu.
“Sand mining contractors distributed Rs 30 lakh as bribe to residents of five villages in the last week,” he said and added that he plans to file a writ petition in the Madras High Court.