Old clay mines have claimed the lives of at least 33 people
Abandoned clay mines continue to dot the otherwise picturesque landscape of Sreemoolanagaram Panchayat, which not so long ago boasted nearly 550 hectares of paddy fields, sustaining three crop cycles a year.
Though an early 2010 government order stipulates that paddy fields, where clay mines are usually developed, should be restored to their original condition once mining is over, government departments have found it difficult to implement the order.
A senior government official said most of the mines in the Sremoolanagarm panchayats, mostly in Chowara and Thekkumbhagam, were developed 25 to 30 years ago and departments concerned had found it difficult to get the gaping holes filled.
Sreemoolanagaram panchayat president K.C. Martin said most of the land where mines were previously developed had been bought by people from outside the panchayat. These parcels of land have remained idle over the years.
He said new mining licences were being issued only under the condition of clearances granted by the Pollution Control Board and the Mining and Geology Department. The new rules also make it compulsory for the licence-holder to furnish a bank guarantee, an insurance against the licensee abandoning the mines without restoring them to their original condition.
The new rules also stipulate that those running clay units should bring the raw material from outside and that the authorities concerned should verify the origins of the raw material.
However, environmentalists like S. Sitaraman have alleged that the licensees misuse the licences. The Panchayat president said there were five to six licensees as of now, though more applications were expected by December, said Mr. Martin.
Dr. Seetaraman said the old clay mines continued to pose a threat to human life. He said in a representation to the State Revenue Minister in June last year that at least 33 people, including children, had drowned in these large ravines.
He alleged in the letter that illegal mining activities as well as paddy field reclamation continued in these areas unabated behind the back of the Revenue Department. However, a State Department official claimed there had not been many cases of paddy field reclamation in the Panchayat of late.
The Department of Agriculture has been trying to bring fallow land in the panchayat under cultivation over these years. As of now the panchayat has only about 35 hectares under paddy during the three seasons, the Mundakan season accounting for about 30 hectares. Most of the paddy land in the Pancyayat was acquired for the international airport.
Dr. Seetaraman fears that the Seaport-Airport Road, linking Irimpanam to Cochin International Airport at Nedumbasserry, which will pass through the Sreemoolanagaram Panchayat, will be added incentive for elements looking to reclaim paddyfields in the area.
However, the Panchayat president claimed the road would pass between Thoombakkadavu and Kondotti, an area which did not have much paddy land.