The roar of tractors hauling sand will no longer reverberate through the Palar riverbed. The district administration declared the closure of eight sand quarries on Sunday, officially bringing the curtains down on sand mining in Vellore.
The eight quarries that were shut include the Public Works Department (PWD) owned Poondi-Santhapakkam quarry, which is among the largest sand quarries in TN. Their closure came after the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority did not give them approval to function.
In fact, all the sand quarries were directed to shut down immediately and none were given any further approval this year. The licence of the Poondi-Santhapakkam quarry expired on March 2. Though the revenue officials had directed the quarry owner to stop taking sand from the second week of February, he turned a blind eye to it. On Saturday, police made a vain attempt to seize over 100 tractors.
“Taking sand from Palar is illegal now,” Collector S A Raman told Express, “Except a bullock cart quarry at Vadavirinjipuram near Katpadi, licence period of all the quarries on the Palar expired in the last 30 to 45 days. No further approval has been given to any quarry,” P Anbarasu, Executive Engineer with the PWD, told Express.
Sand plunders turned their sights on Vellore after the State banned sand mining in Kancheepuram in 2014. Kilambadi and Valavanur in Arcot, Poondi near Walajahpet, Kanthaneri near Pallikonda and Veerankuppam near Ambur soon witnessed a spurt in mining activity. The TN State Sand Lorry Owners Federation (TNSSLF) have demanded that the State should lift the ban on sand mining in Kancheepuram as the Vellore issue would hit construction activities in Chennai and suburbs.
TNSSLF president S Yuvaraj said large quantity of sand had deposited in Palar in Kancheepuram after the 2015 floods. Hence the lifting of ban would serve the industry. “Though not very good in quality due to industrial pollution, we took up transportation of Poondi sand due to its proximity with Chennai” he said.
“To reduce exploitation of water reservoirs, the State should ban sand movement to other states. Or, they should allow us to purchase sand from Andhra,” Yuvaraj said.
He claimed that the TNSSLF’s request to instal GPS machines and CCTV cameras in quarries was not considered.
The environmentalists were a happy lot. While lauding the decision, some of them urged to make it a permanent ban. Palar Protection Association president A C Venkatesan said the river has been ripped off sand from Walajahpet to Vaniyambadi. “The groundwater level has gone below 1,500 ft. It is time the government announced a policy decision banning sand mining on the entire Palar,” he said.