KANNIYAKUMARI: Even as a section of Kanniyakumari district residents has been vehemently objecting to the Union government’s approval for the Indian Rare Earths Limited's (IREL) proposal to mine beach sand minerals (BSM) on 1,144.06 hectares of land, the IREL has said no mining activity will be carried out forcibly on private lands.
However, nearly 1,050 hectares of the proposed mining area are owned by non-government entities. IREL functioning under the purview of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), has an annual mineral production capacity of 1.14 lakh tonnes.
But, the Miniratna-1 company has been producing only an average of 60,000 tonnes annually for the past two decades due to a lack of raw materials. With the government enterprise getting approvals for mining heavy minerals after 21 years, the public has been raising concerns and objections. Their main worry pertains to forcible acquisition
Activist Kurumbanai Berlin of Neithal Makkal Iyakkam said BSM mining along the shorelines had led to inward sea erosion for over 200 metres in the last two decades.
“The sand dunes that act as natural barriers along the shore are removed by the beach sand miners, and agriculture activities have been affected due to the seawater intrusion. The separation of heavy minerals also leads to an increased rate of mortality among coastal villagers,” he said in a petition seeking cancellation of the project approval.
The public in the region also fears that the erstwhile private miners might take advantage of the mining operations carried out by the government entity. “No public hearing has been held yet. How will we ascertain that a government company is undertaking the operations? What if they sub-contract the mining operations to erstwhile BSM mining barons who devastated our region?” a coastal resident asked.
Responding to concerns among residents that BSM mining might raise radiation in the region, the Indian Rare Earths Limited authorities claimed this type of mining would actually reduce the radiation levels significantly in the region as per research findings of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre’s (BARC) Health Physics Division.