Police informants, particularly those who told on the smuggling of illegally mined river-sand, seemed to be at risk at Neyyatinkara taluk.

At least one lost his life on Monday in a reprisal attack by the sand mafia, a group of gangster-backed businessmen who profited from illegal sand-mining.

According to the police, an armed gang stabbed to death alleged police informant Praveen Kumar, 27, to avenge the seizure of a truck-load of river sand, valued at more than Rs.60,000, at Parassala last month. His relative, Binu, 40, was injured in the attack. The police have arrested two persons, Vijayan, 40, and Lovelin, 26, in connection with the murder.

In the past three months, the Neyyatinkara police registered 486 cases of illegal sand-mining and seized more than 200 cargo vehicles. They had exploited the business rivalry between mining groups to gather operational intelligence.

The police had also recruited “reformed” sand-miners and citizens as informants. Several police informants had their houses attacked or were assaulted by unidentified persons in the wake of anti-sand-mining raids. With the help of certain gang leaders, the sand mafia contracted scores of local divers and manual labourers to excavate the Neyyar river for precious sand.

The mining operations were being conducted under the cover of darknessAbout 10 boatloads of sand made a truckload, which was being auctioned for nearly Rs.60,000. The divers were being paid Rs.700 for two hours of work. Local gang leaders got Rs.100 for every truckload of river sand transported from the bank.

Deputy Superintendent of Police, Neyyatinkara, P. Gopakumar, said in several areas, the banks of the Neyyar river had caved in, creating huge along the riverside. The course of the river had been altered at several places and large placid pools had formed.

In March last, a woman drowned after she fell into a stagnant water body created by years of unchecked illegal excavation of sand and clay from an expanse of wetland near Parassala. Investigators said certain corrupt government enforcers helped the sand mafia by passing information on impending raids.