The district administration is set to deploy special squads to keep a round-the-clock check on illegal filling up of paddy fields and unauthorised sand mining in the district.

District Collector P.I. Sheikh Pareed told The Hindu that the special squads to be led by revenue divisional officers will comprise officials of revenue and police departments. “In fact, such a squad has already been formed in Muvattupuzha revenue divisional limits and we are now about to expand it to the Fort Kochi revenue divisional limits as well,” he said.

Vehicles and payment for officials of the squads will not be a problem as the River Management Fund (RMF) will be utilised for the purpose. “We have already made available boats for the functioning of the squad using RMF,” the Collector said.

Meanwhile, illegal sand mining is thriving in areas like Sreemoolanagaram, Kalady, Okkal, and Kanjoor panchayats in the district. An environmental activist told The Hindu on condition of anonymity, fearing an attack by the mining mafia, that illegal sand mining is rampant in Sreemoolanagaram panchayat, especially near the Thiruvairanikulam bridge.

Sand is being mined even from the foot of the bridge, threatening its very existence. He said that police patrolling has proved ineffective in checking the menace though a couple of lorries carrying illegally mined sand was seized a few days ago. There were even instances of those engaged in mining taking refuge in a nearby place of worship against the will of the believers, he said.

“The miscreants engaged in illegal mining remove the fuse of streetlights on the bridge so that they can get on with their activities under the cover of darkness. Those who try to get the lights back on are scared away,” the activist said.

Speeding lorries carrying sand that crisscross the bridge in the night also pose a danger. The money flowing into the hands of those engaged in illegal sand mining has social consequences as well.

“The areas near the bridge and a large vacant plot on the banks of the river just about 200 metres away from the bridge has become a den of anti-social elements and drunkards engaged in gambling,” the activist said.

S. Sitaraman, another environmental activist, said that the lure of making quick money has made illegal sand mining a big draw among the youth. The sand illegally mined is sold at three and four times the market rate, thus making it a lucrative business for all.

“Though poll scooping remains banned, it’s one of the most widely adopted practices. The regulations that sand should not be mined at a depth of more than 3 metres and that it must be at a distance of 10 metres away from the banks and at least 500 metres from structures are also given scant regard. Authorities should make it a point to persistently seize the boats used for transporting illegally mined sand. This alone will put an end to this menace,” Mr. Sitaraman said.

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