Vehicle seizure ineffective as owners are not bothered about the ready-to-junk vehicles
The long line of vehicles, with many of them sporting weeds, lined up along the road leading to the Adi Sankara Temple near Kalady police station exposes how the confiscation of vehicles has ended up as a mere charade in the efforts to rein in illegal sand mining.
Most of these vehicles, seized by the police over the years for transporting illegally mined sand, have been rusting as the owners never bothered to get them released after paying hefty fines.
Some of these vehicles have been lying here for five to eight years.
Environmental activists claimed that the situation was not unique to Kalady. Similar scenes of seized vehicles consuming valuable space can be seen in Aluva, Perumbavur, and Angamaly police station limits where illegal sand mining was rampant, they said.
This stands testimony to how ineffective the confiscation of vehicles is in checking the thriving illegal sand mining. Top revenue department sources admit there is indeed a racket that arranges vehicles for the transportation of illegal sand.
“Most of these vehicles are without proper documents and in ready-to-be-scrapped state. So those who source the vehicles don’t bother to get them released by paying fines. Instead they would promptly replace it by another ready-to-discard vehicle. The owners of these vehicles are rarely punished except for the seizure of vehicles as the police do not bother to investigate their connivance in illegal mining,” said Sunil Menon, an environmental activist.
District Collector P.I. Sheikh Pareed said the revenue department along with the police confiscate 30-50 vehicles in a month in connection with illegal sand mining. He, however, lamented the impediment in imprisoning the vehicles owners for the offence.
The district collector in his capacity as Executive Magistrate fixes a fine and in cases where proper documents are missing an additional security bond, which could even match the price of the vehicle, is collected if the vehicles were to be released.
The administrative delay, which may run in to months and sometimes years, means that even those who initially intend to get the vehicles released drop the plan as they would be at best scrapped by the time they are released.
Another environmental activist, who doesn’t want to be named for fear of attracting the wrath of the sand mafia, alleges that in Koovappady and Okkal panchayats some local body members and their relatives are engaged in arranging vehicles for illegal sand mining.
He said pilot sorties are operated ahead of the vehicle carrying illegally mined sand to ensure that the route is clear. Even if the vehicles are seized once in a while the owners hardly bother as they could more than make up the loss within a week considering the price at which they sell the sand.
A top revenue official did admit that the lorry owner never suffer loss as the price they charge for the sand even covers the bribes to be paid at various levels.
Rajesh R. Pillai, a lawyer, said action against vehicle owners stop at the level of confiscation. He said sometimes stolen vehicles or those without proper documents procured from their original owners are deployed for transportation of illegally mined sand.
“In other cases, the owners of vehicles may have defaulted on the private financing. Getting them released on paying fines may not be feasible for them as the vehicles would be taken away by the private lender anyway,” he said.
Mr. Menon said very often the police were not even allowed to confiscate vehicles carrying illegal sand as they are forced to release them following pressure from politicians. Honest police officers either gradually become part of the unholy politician-police nexus or they are simply transferred out, he said.