"Sand should be sourced from rivers in States like Bihar where it is in excess and made available as a packed product."

Thieves stealing sand from river beds and banks to feed construction boom has once again become rampant in the district, threatening the existence of rivers.

Environmentalist S. Sitaraman said that after a brief period when honest police officers kept a tight leash over the menace by taking stern action against the offenders, the problem has re-emerged in many pockets in the rural district.

He said illegal sand mining was progressing unchecked in Aluva and Perumbavur municipalities, Koovappady, Kalady, Kanjoor, and Okkal panchayats. The Parunthuranji Manappuram in Aluva has been reduced to just a shade over 30 acres from the original 52 acres due to illegal mining.

“Political and police nexus is facilitating illegal sand mining with upright police officers being moved out. Permits issued for legal mining is being exploited for illegal gratification, with local body members also sharing the spoils. The banned practice of pole and net scooping of sand is widespread in many parts of the district,” Prof. Sitaraman said. He said not a single sand ghat could be allotted along the banks of Periyar as per the existing conditions.

The Kerala River Bank Protection and Regulation of Sand Mining Act, 2001, mandates sand audit every three years. However in the last 11 years since the Act came in to force, the Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) had conducted only two audits in the State — of Periyar in Ernakulam and Manimala flowing through Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts. Sand audit is now due in Ernakulam district. D. Padmalal, a scientist with CESS, said that sand audit is a complex process comprising mainly three stages.

“Initially, an exhaustive river mapping is done taking into account riparian vegetation, sand deposits, type of sand, structures on the banks of the river. Then mineable sand is calculated by applying the long list of conditions prescribed in the Act and the study conducted by our experts. The total mineable sand is then divided by the number of years left for 2030, the year in which the population in the State is expected to stabilize, to assess the sand that can be mined each year,” he said.

Mr. Padmalal described sand as a divine mineral, which reduced the fury of water flow during monsoon, thus easing the pressure on structures along the river and preserving it.

Environmentalist John Peruvanthanam has called for legislation exempting natural resources from human intervention to check practices like illegal sand mining and to achieve the larger goal of river protection.

“Apart from the accepted classification of properties into private and public, the natural resources like rivers, wetlands, forests etc should be identified as a third type of property. The powerful and influential sand mafia will find a way to exploit loopholes and evade any other mechanisms like the deployment of police, river watchers or informers,” he said.

Mr. Peruvanthanam said sand should be sourced from rivers in States like Bihar where it is in excess and made available as a packed product across the counter like other construction materials like cement and steel. Local bodies should not be given the powers to permit sand mining.

Former Revenue Minister K.P. Rajendran complained State-wide surprise raids conducted four or five times in a year during the LDF government had been done away with by the present government. “Raids were meticulously planned at the top level in utmost secrecy with the enforcing officials informed only in the last minute,” he said.

District P.I. Sheikh Pareed said private sand parks had become a favoured point for illegally mined sand. Though he had banned such parks in panchayats with approved sand ghats, the operators secured a court stay against it. “Now these parks can trade in illegally mined sand and claim that it was bought from outside that panchayat or even the State,” he said.

The District Environment Committee has expressed its helplessness in dealing with illegal sand mining.

“This is a committee constituted by the Pollution Control Board and looks more at pollution management. If at all the committee is to tackle the issue then it must be made part of its defined role at the time of reconstitution, which is due. But as of now there is no such move,” chairman G. Madhu said.

More In: Kochi | States | News | Kerala | National